Why Is Russia Keeping the U.N. from Condemning Syria?

Russia is Syria's ally and a champion of national sovereignty

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On a day in which Syria shelled the city of Homs as part of an escalated crackdown on protesters and withdrew its controversial bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, Russia once again rejected a British-led effort to persuade the U.N. Security Council to condemn the Syrian regime's use of violence. "The Security Council cannot discuss Syria," a Russian foreign ministry official told the Interfax news agency. The official claimed that the Syrian opposition was guilty of violence as well. "The opposition there was never peaceful to begin with,"he said.

Russia has called for negotiations and political reforms in Syria, but the veto-wielding member of the Security Council has consistently blocked U.N. action on Syria. Why? News reports over the last month suggest a few reasons.

First, as AFP points out, Syria is Russia's Middle East ally. "Russia has retained close ties with Syria since the Soviet era and is currently supplying the country with advanced missiles and other arms," the news outlet notes, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paid a visit to Damascus last year to deepen trade ties between the two countries and "promote Russia's waning presence in the Middle East." Syria, moreover, was one of the few countries to support Russia in its war with Georgia.

There are other reasons, too. Russia generally champions national sovereignty and opposes interventionism and, as The Jerusalem Post notes, Russia and China view "Syria's protests as an internal matter that should be handled domestically." Russia also isn't happy about how the military campaign in Libya is going--a campaign that the Security Council authorized in a vote in which Russia abstained. As Colum Lynch explains at Foreign Policy, "China, Russia, India, and to a lesser extent, Brazil and South Africa, have expressed concern that [Libyan campaign] has exceeded its U.N. mandate to protect civilians, and has taken sides in a civil war." When Russia blocked the Security Council's first effort to condemn Syria, Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador declared that "a real threat could arise from outside interference or taking of sides."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.