Diplomat: Russia will keep shielding Assad at UN

February 10, 2012 - 1:06 PM
Mideast Syria

A Syrian rebel runs for cover during an exchange of fire with army troops, unseen, in Idlib, Syria, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012. The European Union will impose harsher sanctions on Syria, a senior EU official said Wednesday, as Russia tried to broker talks between the vice president and the opposition to calm violence. Activists reported at least 50 killed in the regime's siege of the restive city of Homs. (AP Photo)

MOSCOW (AP) — A senior Russian diplomat signaled Friday that Moscow will again use its veto power at the United Nations to block any resolution aimed at ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.

Last weekend, Russia voted "no" at the U.N. Security Council for a second time in four months to block a resolution urging Assad to step down over his crackdown on an 11-month-old uprising. The move came as Syrian forces intensified their crackdown, which has killed thousands of people and drawn strong international condemnation.

Russia said it would block any U.N. resolution that could pave the way for a replay of what happened in Libya. In that case, Russia abstained from a vote, which cleared the way for months of NATO air force attacks that helped Libyans end Moammar Gadhafi's regime and kill the Libyan leader.

Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Friday that his government will thwart any attempts by the West and major Arab powers to oust Assad by using a U.N. resolution. "If our foreign partners don't understand that, we will have to use strong means again and again to call them back to reality," he was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.

On Friday, Russian lawmakers also supported shielding Assad's regime from international sanctions.

In the lower house of parliament, the lawmakers unanimously passed a statement warning against foreign military intervention in Syria and accusing the West and Arab nations of planning a regime change there.

Alexei Pushkov, the head of the State Duma's foreign affairs committee, said Russia strongly opposes what he called another military "operation to promote democracy." Just before the legislative session began, he said: "We are against using humanitarian reasons to change the regime."

The Duma's statement emphasized that the U.N. Security Council must not side with the opposition in Syria's internal conflict by demanding that Assad's regime step down.

Moscow has maintained close ties with Damascus since the Cold War, when Syria was led by the current leader's father, Hafez Assad.