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04 December 2023

Russia blasts 'Western hysteria' over Syria veto


Russia on Monday condemned as hysterical the angry Western reaction to its veto of a UN resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on protestors, as its top diplomat prepared for a mission to Damascus.

After blocking the resolution on Saturday with its Security Council ally China, Moscow has been painted in Western capitals as the diplomatic villain of the crisis and even told by a French minister it needed a "kick in the ass".

But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed frustration that the West did not postpone the vote until after his trip Tuesday to Damascus, a still mysterious visit where he will deliver a message to President Bashar al-Assad.

"Some comments from the West on the UN Security Council vote, I would say, are indecent and bordering on hysteria," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow after a meeting with Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa.

"Such hysterical comments are aimed at suppressing what is actually happening and what has happened," said Lavrov.

"It reminds me of the proverb: 'he who gets angry is rarely right'," he added.

Lavrov reaffirmed Russia's position that the resolution was wrong to blame Assad's regime alone for the violence and said the text should have also taken aim at the opposition.

"In Syria there is more than one source of violence. There are several there," he said.

Russian news agency ITAR-TASS said that Lavrov, accompanied by the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Agency (SVR) Mikhail Fradkov, would deliver a message from President Dmitry Medvedev to Assad on Tuesday.

But Lavrov would not divulge the purpose of the mission.

"When you go on a mission on the order of the head of state then the purpose of the mission is usually only revealed to the person it is addressed to. If I tell you everything now, then what is the point?"

"You can talk to people just through the media. And some countries prefer to do things this way. But foreign policy demands a more classical approach."

Lavrov regretted that Western powers had not postponed the vote, saying that Moscow had asked for a delay of a few days so that the outcome of his visit to Syria could be discussed.

"The co-authors of the resolution over-hastily decided to put it to a vote," he said.

Analysts have said that Lavrov could indeed be intending to persuade Assad to take steps towards stepping down in favour of a deputy, in line with a plan set out by the Arab League.

"The departure of Assad will be on the agenda," said Yevgeny Satanovsky of the Institute for Middle Eastern Studies, saying that the stalemate on the Security Council was happening "against the background of civil war in Syria".

Despite a succession of statements from Lavrov and other officials, Moscow has found itself targeted by a stream of anger from the West reminiscent of the Cold War when it was known as "Mr No" for its diplomatic intransigence.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vetos wielded by Moscow and Beijing a "travesty" while British Foreign Secretary William Hague said they had sided with the "brutal suppression of the Syrian people".

France's outspoken Defence Minister Gerard Longuet went even further, saying that "it is a disgrace for countries to refuse to assume their responsibilities."

"Frankly, there are some political cultures that deserve a kick in the ass," Longuet told Europe 1 radio.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in the country, charged that Russia, China and Iran are complicit in a "massacre" being carried out by regime forces.

Analysts say that Moscow fears change in Syria as Assad is its last ally in the region and the Damascus regime is also a key buyer of Russian military hardware as well as the host of a strategic Russian naval base.