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Putin’s Russia set against regime change in Syria

Putin’s Russia set against regime change in Syria

Call for Assad to cede power a barrier to Russian backing at UN; Putin determined to avoid precedent as he plans Kremlin return amid protests; Moscow signals ready to veto resolution if left unchanged

January 28, 2012 2:21 by

Putin has angrily likened the Libyan resolution to “medieval calls for crusades”, and last month suggested Gaddafi was hounded to his death with the help of NATO special forces and US pilotless drones.

Russia has plenty of pragmatic reasons to resist political change in Syria, one of Moscow’s strongest footholds in the Middle East since the Soviet era. Syria has been a major client for Russian arms sales and hosts a naval maintenance facility on its Mediterranean coast that is the only base outside the former Soviet Union for Russia’s shrunken navy.

More importantly, analysts say, Putin needs to be seen to be standing up to the West and making clear that the internal affairs of sovereign states, including Russia, are off-limits to foreign interference.
The call for Assad to step aside is particularly objectionable for a leader who, since coming to power in 2000, has answered US and European charges that he has rolled back democracy with accusations of Western meddling and told his citizens to guard against efforts to foment revolution in Russia.

“For Putin, the language is unacceptable, because it sets a precedent,” said Vladimir Frolov, president ofLEFF Group, a Moscow-based government relations firm.

To many Russians, he said, “Putin would look inconsistent, weak and stupid if he were to authorise theForeign Ministry to support that. He’s been saying the opposite to his supporters on the stump.”
Putin has turned to anti-Western rhetoric repeatedly during his campaign for the March 4 vote.

Facing criticism over a December parliamentary vote that many Russians suspect was rigged to favour the ruling party, Putin accused the United States of stirring up a persistent street protest movement that have undermined his authority.

He told students in Siberia on Wednesday that the United States “wants to control everything” and seeks to make other countries its “vassals”, not allies.

Russia’s warning on Friday indicated that it will seek to remove the reference to the transfer of power. But its insistence that details of a political settlement be worked out in talks seemed to leave little room for compromise.

Russia might be more pliable on other aspects of a resolution if it clearly rules out military intervention, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

But he said Western and Arab states were unlikely to put recourse to the use of force entirely out of reach or bend far enough on the call for Assad to give up power to satisfy Moscow.

With Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar determined to get Assad out of power and Russiaopposed, he said, “I cannot really see some resolution that could be agreed by all.”

“This is not Libya, it’s a completely different situation.” (By Steve Gutterman; editing by David Stamp)

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