Russia accuses West of blackmail on Syria plans

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Monday accused the West of effectively trying to use blackmail to secure a new U.N. Security Council resolution that could allow for the use of force in Syria.

The Security Council is debating a new resolution on Syria as special envoy Kofi Annan’s plan for halting the fighting appears dead and the violence in Syria escalates. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was meeting Mr. Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, later Monday, with his country facing intense criticism that it is standing in the way of an end to the conflict.

Russia has adamantly opposed international military intervention in Syria. Such a step has been all but ruled out publicly by Western nations, but the text for a Western-backed resolution circulated by Britain that calls for sanctions would leave the possibility open for military enforcement under the U.N. Charter’s Chapter 7. Russia has submitted a rival text.

The debate comes as a mandate for a U.N. observer force expires on July 20, and Mr. Lavrov insisted that the West was using the deadline as a bargaining chip.

“To our great regret, there are elements of blackmail,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference. “We are being told that if you do not agree to passing the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, then we shall refuse to extend the mandate of the monitoring mission.”

“We consider it to be an absolutely counterproductive and dangerous approach, since it is unacceptable to use monitors as bargaining chips,” he said.

The British draft threatens non-military sanctions against President Bashar Assad’s government if it doesn’t withdraw troops and heavy weapons from population centers within 10 days.

Throughout the 16-month Syrian crisis, in which activists say some 17,000 people have been killed in fighting between Mr. Assad’s forces and opposition groupings, Russia has adamantly opposed international military intervention, fearing a repeat of the type of international action that helped drive Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi out of power.

Russia says it does not overtly support Mr. Assad, Russia’s longtime ally. It maintains any change of power in Syria must be achieved through negotiation, but the Syrian opposition repeatedly has said no negotiations with the Assad regime are possible unless he first leaves power.

Mr. Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position on Monday, saying it was unrealistic to try to persuade Mr. Assad to resign.

“He won’t leave, not because we are defending him, but simply because a very significant part of the population in Syria stands behind him,” he said.

Comments by Mr. Annan last week indicated he favors the British resolution draft, and it was unclear if he would have any significant leverage to exert on Russia during his two-day trip to Moscow, which also includes a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Mr. Lavrov said he would not characterize the situation as a stalemate, but he expressed dismay with the continuing fighting.

“What is happening in Syria is horrible,” he said.

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