“This is an effort from the Arab League, if I understand correctly, to sort of already put a precooked solution on the table,” said Vitaly I. Churkin, Moscow’s envoy to the United Nations. “I understand that the attitude of Damascus to that has been negative.”
The response doomed any hope of a quick resolution at the United Nations to bring greater pressure to bear on the Syrian government, but it also fell into a familiar pattern by which Moscow has shown a growing willingness to challenge the United States and its European partners on a range of issues.
In recent weeks, Moscow has sought U.N. scrutiny of possible crimes by NATO during its air campaign in Libya, and even called for investigations into organ sales in Kosovo, a close ally of the West. Most notably, Moscow has obstructed any effort to increase pressure on Iran.
Asked in an interview whether Russia would ever support a U.N. resolution imposing economic sanctions on the Islamic republic, Churkin said: “No chance, no chance, no chance. . . . Ever.”
Critics say Moscow’s tough line at the United Nations reflects what one senior council diplomat described as “the Putinization of Russian foreign policy,” on the eve of what many expect will be the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency. Other analysts say Russia is trying to reassert its authority in the council following a period in which the United States and Europe prevailed in the handling of several major crises, engineering the downfall of former Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo and, more recently, of Moammar Gaddafi in Libya.
“The Russians looked diminished in the first half of 2011, and the strategy is to show, one, they are prepared to act as a spoiler, but, two, they can also lay out a more proactive agenda,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at the New York University Center for International Cooperation.
The United States and its European partners have responded to Russian aims by mounting a campaign to isolate it at the United Nations, and portraying Moscow as an obstacle to the democratic changes sweeping through the Middle East.
This past week, for example, the United States, Britain, Germany and France publicly rebuked Syria’s arms suppliers, a veiled reference to Russia, for continuing to sell weapons to Damascus.
“It is glaringly obvious that transferring weapons into a volatile and violent situation is irresponsible and will only fuel the bloodshed,” Britain’s U.N. envoy, Mark Lyall Grant, told the Security Council.
Russia is coming under mounting pressure to break with Assad from the Arab League, which is sending a delegation to the Security Council on Tuesday to press its case for a political transition that would require that the Syrian leader step aside. Meanwhile, Morocco, acting on behalf of a group of Western and Arab governments, has introduced a draft resolution endorsing the Arab League initiative calling on states to follow the Arab organization’s example by imposing sanctions on Syria. The Russians have responded coolly.