Moscow expresses concern as UN mission in Syria ends

Burnt vehicles at the scene of a bomb explosion in central Damascus near the hotel used by the UN observer mission in Syria on August 15, 2012. (AFP Photo)
The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern over the decision made by the UN Security Council not to extend the UN observer mission in Syria, while Moscow has scheduled a meeting with the Syrian deputy prime minister.

­"We express concern over the declared impossibility of extending the (UN observer mission) mandate due to the position taken by some Security Council members," the Foreign Ministry said in a report posted on its website on Friday.

Russia continues to support the Kofi Annan plan, which called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire between government troops and opposition rebels.

"We believe it is important to maintain the UN presence in Syria, which is aimed at resolving the crisis in Syria within the framework of Kofi Annan's plan and the Geneva agreements reached by the Action Group for Syria," the report said.

Russia argued that the presence of UN peacekeepers in Syria, “helped reduce violence in the country," especially at the initial stage, the report said.

The Security Council's decision to end its mission this coming Sunday underscores the frustrations of UN officials attempting to broker peace in Syria. Both sides in the conflict have “chosen the path of war,” UN assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet said.

The news comes amid increased attacks by the Syrian government, including airstrikes on a rebel stronghold in northern Syria and shelling in Aleppo, the country's largest city.

Humanitarian organizations say an estimated 20,000 people have died in the 17-month-long civil war.

The Security Council approved its recommendation to re-format the UN's presence in Syria at Russia's request, the Foreign Ministry said: "The tasks of the new UN office in Syria will involve monitoring the situation in the country and encouraging the conflicting parties in Syria to stop bloodshed and begin political dialogue as soon as possible."

The Security Council decided on Thursday not to extend the mandate of the international observers in Syria, which expires on August 19.

The United States, which set conditions on the Annan peace plan that heavily favored the Syrian rebels, suggested that Russia has started to sense “negative consequences” in its approach to the Syrian conflict.

"I think that in fact Russia has already suffered by its choices,” US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told Interfax on Friday, adding that “Russia is not responding to what the people of Syria themselves want.”

For its part, Moscow has met with representatives of both sides in the conflict, and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still enjoys majority support among the Syrian people. Washington, which overtly supports the Syrian rebels, frequently blames China and Russia for the ongoing violence.

Russia’s push for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis will continue next week when the Syrian deputy prime minister arrives in Moscow for talks.

A delegation led by Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil will arrive in Russia on Saturday, and is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the beginning of next week, Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riyad Haddad said. The delegation is expected to discuss possible ways to achieve an end to the ongoing conflict in Syria, Haddad said.

Jamil previously headed the Front for Change and Liberation, a group opposed to the Assad government. The deputy prime minister visited Russia on two previous occasions – in December 2011 and April 2012 – as an opposition activist. He became a deputy prime minister for economic issues for the current Syrian government in late June.

UN monitors in Damascus began to pack up their equipment on Friday in preparation for their departure from Syria.

Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vitaly Churkin, after expressing regret over the UN Security Council's refusal to extend the international monitoring mission, confirmed that the council's five permanent members – Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain – and key Middle Eastern countries will hold a meeting concerning Syria on Saturday, August 18.