Another Bloody Friday in Syria and Why Russia Won’t Do Anything About It

The UN’s top humanitarian office has put the death toll in the Syria uprisings at 850.  That figure, says UNHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colleville, is unverified, “but likely to be close to reality.”  It tracks closely with media reports over the past week.

In the meantime, the latest update from Al Jazeera’s excellent blogging on the events in Syria say that armed forces have opened fire into a huge crowd:

Two eyewitnesses in Homs confirmed to Al Jazeera that secret police opened fire on a crowd of some 2,000 protestors as they attempted to march into a central neighbourhood.

The first eyewitness said he joined protestors from the Grand Mosque who gathered in the Bab Dreib and Bab Hud areas.

He added the protestors were surrounded by plain clothes secret police and watched over by snipers hidden on roof tops.

As they began to march down a street toward the central Bab Sebah neighbourhood the secret police opened fire on the crowd. The army, which has tanks and troops deployed in and around the city, was not involved in the attack, which left one confirmed injured, said the eyewitness.

A second eyewitness who spoke to Insan, a Syrian human rights group, confirmed shooting had taken place around Bab Sebah.

I would imagine that scenes like this are occurring throughout the country today.   Given the rapidly deteriorating situation, the expectation would be that the international community should do what it can to prevent these kinds of abuses. Right? Wrong, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“The betting is that outside players will appreciate the problem and will not only discuss but also subsequently repeat the Libyan situation, for example, interfere using methods of force among other things,” Lavrov said.

“It is a great pity that the Libyan situation has created a huge temptation for many opposition members in that region to create a similar situation and expect that the West will not stand aside but will be interfering in the conflict in favour of one of the sides.”

Basically, what he’s saying is that the West’s gung-ho interventionism in Libya—and to a certain extent in Egypt and Tunisisia — have created a dynamic in which would-be revolutionaries believe that all they need to do to attract foreign intervention is suffer for a while. The political scientist Alan Kuperman calls this the moral hazard of humanitarian interventionism; would-be insurgents are more inclined to take up arms against stronger adversaries if they credibly believed a foreign power would intervene on their behalf.

There’s some truth to that. But the key difference between Lavrov’s scenario and what we are seeing in Syria today is that these protests have not been violent. This is not a civil war.  The Syrian people have not taken up arms. They have taken to the streets and are getting gunned down by the hundreds.

The moral obligation, as it were, is to try and stop unarmed people from getting shot down in the streets.