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West suffers historic defeat as China and Russia veto Zimbabwe sanctions

Times Online
July 12, 2008

West suffers historic defeat as China and Russia veto Zimbabwe sanctions

Britain’s diplomatic strategy in Zimbabwe collapsed last night in an historic defeat for the West in the UN Security Council that will have repercussions across Africa and beyond.

Russia and China wielded their veto to kill a resolution imposing UN sanctions on President Mugabe and his inner circle in a defining vote in the 15-nation council.

Sir John Sawers, the British Ambassador to the UN, said: “The people of Zimbabwe need to be given hope that there is an end in sight to their suffering. The Security Council today has failed to offer them that hope.”

Russia declared that it was casting its veto to prevent the council, under the influence of Western members, from meddling in the internal affairs of a UN member state.

“We have seen an effort to take the council beyond its charter prerogative,” Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the UN, declared. “We believe such practices to be illegitimate and dangerous, leading to a realignment of the UN system. This draft is nothing but the council’s attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state.”

China, which supplies arms to Harare, said that the Zimbabwe crisis did not constitute a threat to international peace and security, over which the council had jurisdiction.

“Internationally, to use or threaten to use sanctions lightly is not conducive to solving a problem,” Wang Guangya, the Chinese Ambassador to the UN, said.

Britain and the United States forced the draft resolution to a vote because they counted on the support of the nine members needed to secure adoption. In a dramatic show of hands, the draft did indeed earn the requisite nine votes to pass, with five against, but was not adopted because of Russia’s and China’s block. South Africa, Vietnam and Libya also voted against, while Indonesia abstained.

The showdown heralds a chilling of international relations as Russia and China resist growing UN intervention in other repressive regimes, such as Burma, and it represents a shift in the balance of power at the top table of diplomacy. Russia, China and developing nations are flexing their muscles after Western dominance since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“China and Russia have stood with Mugabe against the people of Zimbabwe,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Ambassador, told the council. “This resolution would have supported the courageous efforts of the Zimbabwean people to change their lives peacefully through elections.”

The statements by Britain and the US reflected their anger days after President Medvedev of Russia agreed a tough statement at the G8 summit in Japan threatening sanctions against Zimbabwe. Sir John read out the G8 statement promising further steps, including “financial and other measures against those individuals responsible for the violence.” He described the Russian action as irresponsible.

Mr Khalilzad went further, calling the Russian veto a “U-turn” and suggesting that it raised questions about Russia’s “reliability as a G8 partner”, hinting that it might be ejected from the elite club of leading industrial nations.

The UN resolution would have imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and clamped a worldwide asset freeze and travel ban on Mr Mugabe and 13 of his henchmen accused of orchestrating election abuses in the June 27 presidential run-off vote.

It would also have required the UN to name a special representative to act as a mediator in Zimbabwe.

Britain hoped that the resolution would step up the pressure on Mr Mugabe and his closest aides and sideline the discredited mediation efforts by President Mbeki of South Africa.

Last night’s defeat left British policy in disarray. “With the vetoing of this resolution, we need to look for a new way forward,” Sir John said.

Even in the absence of international sanctions, a growing number of Western companies are pulling out of Zimbabwe. Among others, Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, has announced its withdrawal.

Companies operating in Zimbabwe have been under fire for remaining in the country and the British Government has suggested that they could be forced to leave.

Tesco said that it would no longer source food from Zimbabwe, while WPP, the advertising agency, is in the process of selling its business, which is part-owned by a relative of Mr Mugabe.

Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and the mining corporations Anglo American and Rio Tinto have decided to stay.


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