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.
Aside from a few Turkish brigades strung out along the Syrian border, the West maintains no troops on in the vicinity of Syria since the American military withdrew from Iraq last December.
The United States presented a tough front at the UN Security Council Saturday, with President Obama insisting that the council vote on a Arab League text without further delay or changes to accommodate Moscow and that its president step down over his "unspeakable assault" on Homs.
The hard lines taken by Washington and Moscow over the Syrian crisis produced a harsh showdown over the "Arab Spring" per se, which Russian has been building up to since NATO helped Libyan rebels overthrow Muammar Qaddafi.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who runs for his third term as president in a month's time, and President Dmitry Medvedev appear to have determined, even at the price of military intervention, not to let NATO and Arab states repeat the Libyan exercise in Damascus. The gauntlet they threw down was picked up by President Obama Saturday. If the Russians continue to obstruct the US, European and Arab role in backing the Arab revolt and the Muslim Brotherhood, The United States, the Europeans and the Gulf Arabs are likely to redouble their efforts to unseat Bashar Assad.