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Russia takes firm stance against U.N. on Syria

By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times –

BEIRUT — Russia remained firm Wednesday in its pledge to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution that could open the door for international military intervention in Syria, as fighting raged anew in the troubled Middle East nation.

With diplomats attempting to craft a compromise, Moscow also continues to oppose any U.N. move that calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down or would slap new economic penalties or an arms embargo on Damascus.

Behind Russia’s resolute stance is its long-time relationship with Assad and his family, who have run Syria for four decades, as well as a web of business and security interests, and deep discomfort in Moscow with the concept of foreign-mandated regime change. Russian diplomats say they were deceived last year when a U.N. resolution designed to protect Libya civilians morphed into a Western-led bombing campaign that doomed the long-ruling government of Moammar Gadhafi.

Moreover, opposition to the resolution will not cause significant damage to relations between Russia, the West and Arab Gulf countries, predicted Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs. Other concerns such as the situation in Iran and Afghanistan keep Washington and its allies engaged with Russia, he said, adding that Moscow’s relations with Gulf countries are already bad.

“Russia has nothing to lose,” Lukyanov said.

U.N. action could help determine the future of Syria as it nears the one-year anniversary of a protest movement that was met by a bloody government crackdown and has since evolved into armed rebellion that has left the country on the precipice of civil war.

A draft U.N. resolution circulating in New York would authorize unspecified “further measures” should Syria not comply with its terms — including a “political transition” in which Assad would cede power.

The Arab League and its Western allies, including Washington, are pushing the proposal. But Syria, backed by nations including Russia, calls the scheme an affront on its sovereignty.

Moscow, which last year joined with China to veto a U.N. resolution that would have condemned the Syrian crackdown on dissent, is concerned that the revolt in Syria, along with other “Arab Spring” movements, are part of a Western conspiracy to dominate the Middle East, Russian analysts say.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s envoy to the European Union, said the current U.N. draft was “missing the most important thing: a clear clause ruling out the possibility that … (it) could be used to justify military intervention in Syrian affairs.”

“For this reason,” he said, “I see no chance this draft could be adopted.”

Violence continued to ravage Syria on Wednesday, with an opposition coalition, the Local Coordinating Committees, reporting at least 68 more deaths, more than half in clashes outside Damascus. The military has been clearing armed rebels from towns near the capital after insurgents brazenly advanced to only a few miles from Damascus, embarrassing the government.

The official government news agency reported that four military officers, including a brigadier general, were killed Wednesday and six others wounded, in a confrontation with an “armed terrorist group” outside Damascus.

The United Nations has reported more than 5,000 deaths since protests against Assad’s rule broke out last March.

Casualty figures cannot be independently verified, since media access is limited in Syria.

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