Russia rejects in the strongest possible terms allegations that it supports President Assad in the Syrian conflict. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Moscow and Beijing must 'pay a price' for backing Assad.
“I do not believe that Russia and China are paying any price at all – nothing at all – for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime. The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price,” Clinton warned.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said the west is operating within a friend-or-foe framework that he called outmoded.
“We categorically reject that such a question would even be posed regarding the current situation in Syria and Russia’s ‘backing’ of President Bashar Assad. This is not a question of supporting certain political figures or leaders. This is a question of managing a crisis situation in the country within a normal political framework,” Ryabkov said.
“Unfortunately, we’re unable to get a basic understanding from our western partners. The west is still appealing to “friend-or-foe” terms. We considered such terminology to be a thing of the past,” Ryabkov explained.
Russia and China once again opted not to attend the “Friends of Syria” meeting. Neither Moscow nor Beijing believe the meeting in the French capital will be helpful in uniting the Syrian opposition “on a constructive basis”.
“We have frankly laid out the reasons why we have restrained from joining the mechanism, the very name of which has a contradiction between the word and the deed,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier this week.
The US Secretary of State further criticized Russia for the maintenance of Syria’s Soviet-made helicopters. Two weeks ago Hillary Clinton lashed out at Russia for repairing three Syrian helicopters, saying their presence “will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry swiftly refuted the allegations.
“In 2008 there was a contract to repair them. They are still to be assembled after delivery'', Lavrov said. ''That entire process will take at least three months. So to speak about something we have just sold to Syria, which is then to be used in action, is not true at all,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kofi Annan called on the West and Russia to lay aside their differences and work towards a sooner end to the Syrian bloodshed, which according to the UN latest estimates, has taken some 15,000 lives.
"They [the West] accuse the Russians of arming the [Syrian] government. The Russians accuse them of arming the opposition and flooding the place with weapons. This is instead of coming together to see what can be done," Annan told the Guardian on Friday.
The Paris conference wrapped up with a six-point resolution, affirming that more definitive UN Security Council action is required to resolve the 16-month conflict in Syria.
Hillary Clinton said the lack of compliance with Annan’s peace plan or obstruction to the transition should be punished with further sanctions.
"We should go back and ask for a resolution in the Security Council that imposes real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions," ranging from economic measures to military force, she said.
Two previous UNSC resolutions have been vetoed by China and Russia.
Friends of Syria’s meeting also concluded with an agreement that the Syrian opposition should receive broader support, while those “who carry out and support repression” must face tougher and wider sanctions.
In the meeting, French President Francois Hollande demanded Assad step down. The Syrian opposition also called for humanitarian corridors and a no-fly zone to be implemented.
The Friends of Syria gathering comes just a week after a UN-led summit in Geneva where the international community endeavored to reach a consensus on the conflict. They agreed to get behind UN envoy Kofi Annan’s plan for a transition government in Syria.
However, Russia said that western powers were purposely distorting the terms of the agreement to push for the removal of Assad.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed that the agreement said Assad must leave office, whereas Moscow claims that the original accord made no allusion to the removal of the Syrian president.