Russian President Vladimir Putin, currently touring European capitals, has continued to push back hard against any kind of foreign military intervention in Syria. During meetings in Berlin and Paris with Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande, Putin acknowledged that "We are seeing nascent elements of a civil war today. This is extremely dangerous." But he also categorically opposed outside military force, warning, "You cannot do anything by force." At the end of their meeting in Berlin, Chancellor Merkel acknowledged that both she and Putin agreed that the only way forward was to press for the Annan mission to succeed.
In his press conference in Paris with President Hollande, the differences were more pronounced, after Hollande said that "no solution is possible without the departure of Bashar al-Assad." Putin said that sanctions don't work, and that Assad's ouster was not the solution. "Do you think that just by removing the president there will be happiness across the country? Just look at what has happened in Libya."
As President Putin was touring Europe on his first overseas visit since his inauguration, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a strongly worded statement, blaming foreign countries, unnamed, for the al-Houla massacre. The killings, the statement charged, "showed what can result from supplying rebels with financial aid and smuggling modern weaponry to them, hiring foreign mercenaries and flirting with different kinds of extremists."
Russia, joined by China and Cuba, also cast "no" votes at the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva yesterday, which did authorize an investigation into the al-Houla massacre. The resolution, authored by the Obama Administration, cast blame on the Syrian government for the massacre, and the head of the Council, Navi Pillay, threatened that crimes against humanity charges could be brought against any perpetrators.
Today after a visit to Beirut, Kofi Annan was in Doha, Qatar for a meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers. The meeting called for an expansion of the Annan peace mission, "to take the necessary measures to protect Syrian civilians." Already on June 1, Arab League head Nabil Elaraby had written to the UN Security Council, proposing the expanded size and mandate. Similar language had been used in the UN Security Council resolution on Libya, and it is certain that Russia will veto any such formulations. The 90-day mandate for the combined UN/Arab League observer mission expires on July 20, at which point it must be either renewed, modified or terminated. Kofi Annan is scheduled to give a briefing to the UN Security Council during this coming week.