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Baird blames Russia for UN ‘losing its relevance’ in Syrian crisis

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 19, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird openly pegged Russia as the culprit allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to continue a bloody crackdown on opponents, and warned the United Nations is becoming irrelevant in the crisis.

The unusually blunt blame from Canada's foreign minister came as Mr. Baird attended a meeting of more than 100 countries in the so-called Friends of Syria group in Paris, which called for a ratcheting up of sanctions on the Assad regime.

The meeting was bolstered by the defection of a high-profile general, Manaf Tlas, once a friend of the president and a commander of a brigade of Syria's elite Republican guards. That move offered hope that Mr. al-Assad's inner circle is weakening, and that Syria's opposition might gain traction.

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But western and Arab countries that want to squeeze the regime further pointedly laid the blame on China and Russia, the two countries that have blocked sanctions at the United Nations Security Council. And Mr. Baird singled out Russia in blunt terms.

"They're not merely blocking sanctions. Russia is enabling this regime to soldier on," Mr. Baird told reporters in a conference call from Paris. "They need to reflect on their role in a civilized world."

Russia has not only blocked sanctions but has continued to sell arms to the Assad regime, and Mr. Baird's singling out of Moscow's role reflects the view in Ottawa and other western capitals that they are the regime's key defenders. China has blocked sanctions out of its customary distaste for intervention, but has fewer interests at stake, they believe.

Mr. Baird warned that Moscow is undermining the United Nations by acting as Syria's ally in the security council.

"The security council conduct on this affair has been disgraceful," he said. "The United Nations is losing its relevance because of – not the inaction at the security council, but the fact that Russia is enabling this regime to soldier on."

Despite his insistence that the UN is losing relevance, Mr. Baird twice dodged questions on whether western countries should consider intervening without a UN mandate, perhaps in a NATO action. There is clearly little taste in NATO for such an action – the U.S. is in an election year and Europe is in recession – and many planners fear that removing Mr. al-Assad could be the prelude to bloody sectarian strife that destabilizes the region.

Mr. Baird said direct intervention "wasn't the thrust of the conversations" at the Friends of Syria meeting, and said its message is the "tough language" aimed at Russia and China. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also addressed a sharp message to Mosow and Beijing, and urged the other countries present at the meeting in Paris to do the same.

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Mr. Baird said the participants that it is also time for many countries around the world to toughen their sanctions against Damascus.

Canada, which has already imposed extensive sanctions on Syria, applied yet another round on Friday, barring the export of a long list of chemicals that might, according to the government, be used to make chemical weapons.

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About the Author
Chief political writer

Campbell Clark has been a political writer in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau since 2000. Before that he worked for The Montreal Gazette and the National Post. He writes about Canadian politics and foreign policy. More

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