If Russia and China have a credible plan to stop the bloodshed in Syria, it is time to put it into action.
By continuously vetoing United Nations security council attempts to put real pressure on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Russia and China give succour to an increasingly murderous dictator and effectively condone his continued slaughter of his people.
The latest resolution would have seen economic sanctions against Assad's regime if his forces and heavy weapons were not withdrawn from populated areas within 10 days. The agreement of Russia, which is Assad's most powerful backer, would have been particularly effective. Russia's support for the Assad regime was critical in what started in March last year as a protest calling for the release of political prisoners, then escalated into widespread unrest after some demonstrators were shot, turning into a full blown civil war.
Assad embarked on his brutal crackdown safe in the knowledge Russia would continue to arm him. Only last month, he would have taken possession of a shipment of attack helicopters on their way back to Syria after being sent to Russia for repairs had Britain not insisted the British-based insurer withdraw its cover in line with European Union sanctions.
Russia opposed the latest resolution because it authorised sanctions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows for military intervention to enforce security council demands. Russia insists that what goes on inside a sovereign country is its own business and is uneasy about the future of its only Mediterranean naval base, at the Syrian port of Tartus, should Assad fall.
Russia is also opposed to any resolution that singles out his regime, arguing that both sides are responsible for the fighting. Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the latest resolution was really aimed at securing Assad's downfall, rather than finding a peaceful solution.
However, ending the Assad regime is now the only way to bring peace to Syria. After 17 months of bloodshed, the fighting has now reached into the very heart of his regime, with a bomb in the National Security building, on Wednesday, killing three of his top henchmen. On the same day, heavy fighting broke out in Syria's capital, Damascus, and yesterday rebel forces reportedly seized border posts near Turkey and Iraq. The end appears to be near for Assad, yet still he unleashes his helicopters, tanks and missiles in a desperate attempt to cling to power.
So far, the killing has cost an estimated 17,000 lives. The slaughter will continue until Assad is toppled. Russia should be urging him to go immediately, not encouraging him to stay.
IN PRAISE OF ... A TRUE HERO
The camouflage-wearing figure snapped on a dusty Kabul street after a gun battle that left three Taleban militants dead in January 2010 was straight from central casting – bearded, battle-grimed and dangerous. Overnight, fridges and noticeboards all over the country were adorned with photographs of Victoria Cross winner Willie Apiata. In an age in which the most challenging physical task some of us undertake is changing a lightbulb, he was the man Kiwi men wanted to be and the man Kiwi women wanted.
Now Mr Apiata is quitting the military after 23 years to work with at-risk youth and spend time with his new wife and four-month-old child. That he has chosen to work for youth charity High Wire Trust, rather than cash in on his skills overseas, is yet another mark in his favour. According to some, he could have earned up to $550,000 a year protecting VIPs in Iraq.
The term hero is bandied about too easily these days, but Mr Apiata is the real deal – a soldier who risked his life to save a wounded comrade and who has never sought the limelight for his own purposes. The youngsters who participate in High Wire’s outdoor pursuits could not have a better mentor.
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