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7th Dec 2019

EU countries cautiously welcome Russian UN text on Syria

  • Leaked map of Syria's air defences. Chizhov: 'The last thing we want is a repetition of [Libya-type intervention] in Syria' (Photo: James L'Angelle)

EU countries have criticised a Russian draft UN resolution on Syria for morally equating security forces and rebels, but say the text can go through "with amendments."

Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin circulated the paper to the 14 other UN Security Council (UNSC) members - including France, Germany, Portugal and the UK - in a surprise move on Thursday (15 December).

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The text - seen by Reuters and the Washington Post - condemns "disproportionate use of force by Syrian authorities" and "urges the Syrian government to put an end to suppression of those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association."

It calls for an "end to all violence and provocations" by "all parties" and "[condemns] the activity of extremists groups, including attacks against state institutions [and] law enforcement personnel." It also criticises "illegal supply of weapons to the armed groups in Syria" and says neighbouring countries should "take necessary steps to prevent such supplies."

Churkin told press in New York: "We do believe that it's not only the authorities but also extremist opposition forces who are causing damage and killing people."

EU countries and the US cautiously welcomed the development, which marks an end to Russia and China's months-long veto on UN action.

The Russian text is disliked for equating the rebel Free Syrian Army and Syrian National Council with President Bashar Assad's security regime. It also leaves Russia free to keep selling arms to Syria while blocking alleged smuggling of arms to rebels via Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

French UN ambassador Araud told press the draft is "unbalanced" and needs "a lot of amendments." German envoy Peter Wittig said: "To put the Syrian authorities and the peaceful demonstrators and the opposition on the same level is totally unacceptable."

UK ambassador Michael Tatham and US secretary of state echoed the line. Clinton said the "seeming parity between the government and peaceful protesters" is "unfortunate."

Russia's move comes hot on the heels of two reports highlighting atrocities by the Syrian regime.

UN human rights envoy Navi Pillay on Monday noted that Assad's forces have killed more than 5,000 people in the past nine months and said "crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed."

Human Rights Watch named 74 Syrian officers involved in murder and torture of civilians in a study out Thursday. It quoted army defectors, such as one sniper in Homs who was ordered to kill 15 to 20 people out of every 5,000 protesters in a crowd. "These abuses constitute crimes against humanity," it said.

Security specialists in the EU diplomatic service have told EUobserver that Assad's position in the country is much stronger than some analysts believe.

"Syria is still a slow burner," one contact said. "The question remains whether Assad will in the end seek refuge externally or go out with a bang." Another contact said it is a "genuine problem" that if Assad falls, it will tip the balance of power in the region, giving Sunni-Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia the upper hand against Shia-Muslim Iran in a situation that could provoke future conflicts.

For his part, Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov on Monday told reporters in Brussels that Nato countries' regime change in Libya crossed red lines by excessive bombing of Gaddafi forces, arms transfers to rebels and special forces' "boots on the ground."

"The last thing we want is a repetition of this in Syria," he said.

A Reuters report out Friday indicated that Nato countries waged war in Libya for the sake of oil interests as well as humanitarian concerns.

The story quoted a senior source at Libya's national oil company, NOC. as saying that oil firms linked to Nato countries - BP, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Exxon Mobil, Galp, OMV, Repsol, Saras, Shell and Total - will get "priority" in crude oil sales next year.

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