Escalating international tensions over the bloodshed in Syria will see U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague attempt to persuade the Kremlin to increase pressure on its Middle Eastern ally during talks in Moscow on Monday.
“[I] will call on Russia to support rapid & unequivocal pressure on [Syrian President Bashar] Assad regime and accountability for crimes,” Hague wrote in Twitter post ahead of a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
Hague’s long-planned visit took on new urgency after this weekend’s massacre in the Syrian town of Houla, near Homs, where at least 108 people, including 49 children, were killed, according to UN observers.
The UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent, veto-wielding member, unanimously condemned the Syrian authorities on Sunday over what it says was “an outrageous” attack.
The non-binding statement also accused government forces of “artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighborhood” in the town, as well as “the killing of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse.”
Syrian officials have denied government forces were involved in the killings.
And Russian deputy UN ambassador Alexander Pankin told journalists ahead of Hague’s visit that Moscow did not rule out that the killings in Houla were a “provocation” carried out by rebel forces ahead of a visit by UN peace envoy Kofi Annan to Syria on Tuesday. He also refused to rule out the participation of foreign special forces in the attack.
The Kremlin has opposed attempts to impose UN sanctions on Syria, where Russia maintains its only foreign military base, over what Western powers say is the brutal suppression of a now more-than-one-year anti-Assad uprising. Moscow, which continues to arm Damascus, says proposed UN resolutions on the violence-stricken country betray a pro-rebel bias.
Russia has, however, given its full backing to Annan’s six-point peace plan and Lavrov said in April that Assad needed to show more decisiveness to end the violence in Syria.
"We've had many differences of view over Russia at the Security Council but Russia does support the Annan plan and so I hope Russia will redouble its efforts to get the Assad regime to implement that plan," Hague told British television on Sunday.
"It's not in the interests of Russia, just as it's not in the interests of anybody in the world, for Syria to descend into an even bloodier situation and into full-scale civil war -- and that is now the danger," he added.
Some 9,000 people have been killed in clashes between the government and the opposition in Syria since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011, according to UN estimates.