Syrian Protesters' Fury Over Russia and China's UN Veto

Russia and China vetoed U.N. resolution to condemn Assad's violent crackdown.

October 7, 2011, 12:47 PM

Oct. 7, 2011— -- Two days after Russia and China cast a rare double veto at the United Nations Security Council blocking a resolution to "strongly condemn" Syria's violent crackdown on civilian protesters the United Nations raised the death toll in Syria to more than 2,900.

Anger at the Russian and Chinese veto has been palpable among Syrian protesters since Tuesday. Protesters have taken to burning Russian and Chinese flags as well as chanting anti-Russian slogans such as "Russia you are complicit in our murder" and "Russia don't destroy our future."

Activists have also managed, despite the heavy security presence around the Syrian capital, to dye the water in Damascus public fountains red to symbolize the blood shed during the months-long crackdown by Syrian authorities on widespread popular protests calling for the fall of President Bashar Assad's regime.

Russia and China's vetoes drew sharp words from U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who accused them of preferring to "sell arms to the Syrian regime [rather] than stand with the Syrian people."

Russia maintains a naval base in the Syrian Mediterranean coastal city of Tartus and has longstanding military and political ties to the Syrian government. Access to warm waters has been a centuries old mainstay of Russian strategic interests.

French U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud went a step further saying that "the veto was against the Arab Spring " before adding that "nothing in this text could justify a veto, only a desire to provide support to the Assad regime's crackdown."

Though the American and European delegates shared an outrage at the blocking of the resolution, they were not on the same wave-length when it came to the content of the resolution, according to diplomats privy to the negotiations at the Security Council.

While the U.S. was intent on including sanctions against principal players in the Syrian regime, the Europeans were more willing to engage Russia's opposition to sanctions in the hope of avoiding a veto. "They calculated that they could win over the Russians. It was a gross miscalculation and showed a lack of spine," said a diplomat on the Security Council.

Russia had for months blocked negotiations on a draft resolution on Syria refusing to even attend meetings to discuss the language of the proposed resolution. When Russian diplomats finally started engaging on the draft, European diplomats took it as a small sign that an agreement could be within reach.

The vote on the European draft resolution on Tuesday evening was preceded by intense negotiations and side conversations between diplomats in New York, Washington D.C., London,Paris, Berlin and Moscow.

French diplomats, still hoping they could avoid a Russian veto, met with their Russian counterparts on Monday evening to further revise the language of the text.

At that point the text had been revised more than a dozen times. It began as a European-American push for an arms embargo on Syria in addition to targeted sanctions on President Assad and 20 of his closest associates, including an asset freeze and travel ban.

The final text that was put to a vote was reduced, as result of Russian demands, to a strong condemnation of the violence, a call for reforms and political dialogue as well as a veiled nod to possible sanctions in the future.

Russia's Medvedev Gives Warning to Assad

Despite these concessions, as the ambassadors of the 15 countries sitting on the Security Council held three-hour long consultations behind closed doors it became clear that Russia and China were intent on vetoing the watered down text. A diplomat on the Security Council described these talks as "tense, with certain countries acting in bad faith," a reference to Russia.

Undeterred, diplomats continued their engagement throughout much of the day. The United States, France and the United Kingdom met at 2 p.m., the U.S. reiterating its dissatisfaction with the absence of sanctions in the proposed text.

As the 5 p.m. deadline loomed, diplomats pushed the vote an extra hour as further side negotiations took place, a last ditch effort for an eleventh hour breakthrough.

It never happened. Russia and China cast a double veto, their first in three years and their second in a decade.

Despite his country's defense of the veto, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made his bluntest statement yet toward the Syrian leadership, saying it if is "unable to undertake these reforms, it will have to go."

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