The West and Russia had a major showdown Saturday Feb. 5 over the Arab League resolution calling on Bashar Assad to step down and allow the formation of a national unity government. US President Barack Obama demanded a UN stand against the Syrian president's "relentless brutality" and a vote before the end of the day. It was put to the vote and defeated by Russian and China vetoes.
Moscow sources charged that the motion had been intended to pave the
way for war in Iran and a bid to overthrow the Tehran regime.
debkafile's military sources report that the Russians backed their hard line against the West by putting Rapid Reaction Force (aka Spetsnaz) units in Black Sea bases on the ready to set out for Syria and defend Damascus. A Cold War dimension has been injected into the Syrian crisis, which is fast descending into a sectarian war between Syria's ruling Alawites (Shiites) and the majority Sunnis. The regional dimension is provided by pitting Iran and Syria against Turkey and the Gulf Arabs.
The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's earlier announcement that
he would visit Damascus next Tuesday, Feb 7, with Russian Foreign
Intelligence Service chief Mikhail Fradkov was meant to buy Bashar Assad
another three days' grace to polish off the opposition before a
possible UN-ordered ceasefire.
However, the US and Western powers refused to wait for further Syrian excesses to take place after various sources reported earlier Saturday that Syrian troops had shelled the Homs district of Khaldiyeh, killing an estimated 350 people there and injuring some 1,500, in the worst military bombardment of nearly 11-month-old uprising,.
Syrian government officials denied the charge accusing "gunmen" of killing civilians.
debkafile's intelligence sources note that Moscow's gesture to send the Russian foreign intelligence chief to Damascus alongside the foreign minister is supported additionally by the presence in the Syrian port of Tartus of Russia's only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with two destroyers and a marine force.