OTTAWA - Canada has pressed Russia to stop funnelling arms to the Assad regime as the Syrian dictator unspools a deadly military crackdown on dissenters.
A senior Canadian official says the Canadian Embassy in Moscow delivered a "demarche" or protest note to the Russian foreign ministry. The move comes after Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird expressed Canada's disappointment over the veto wielded by Russia and China on Saturday at the United Nations Security Council.
The veto killed a resolution that would have condemned the regime of President Bashar Assad that has waged a bloody 11-month crackdown on dissent that has left thousands dead in his country.
"We are concerned sufficiently to have raised our concerns about Syria with the Russians through a demarche by our embassy in Moscow," Barbara Martin, director general of the Middle East bureau at Foreign Affairs, said Wednesday.
"I think there are many others in the international community who are equally concerned about that particular situation."
Martin told members of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs committee that she was aware of the Russian arms transfers, but couldn't offer more details in a public forum.
MPs chose not to press her further during her testimony, which focused on the deteriorating security situation in Syria.
Syria is becoming increasingly isolated from its neighbours and from the international community, Martin said.
"Its friends are narrowing considerably," she testified.
"Our hope is that people will be persuaded that the extent of the repression and the violence is insupportable and that it is time to stop these arms transfers."
Russia remains one of Syria's few friends.
To that end, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin essentially told the international community on Wednesday to butt out of Syria, even though his own foreign minister met Assad in Damascus a day earlier.
Putin told the ITAR-TASS news agency that outside forces should let Syrians settle their conflict "independently" and "not act like a bull in a china shop."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed forces from the regime and the opposition for the continuing violence that the UN estimates has killed more than 5,400 people.
"On both sides, there are people that aim at an armed confrontation, not a dialogue," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow Wednesday.
Lavrov noted that Assad assigned his vice-president, Farouk al-Sharaa, the job of holding talks with the opposition.
Meanwhile, the international community continued to tighten the economic screws on Syria as a senior European Union official said the bloc would impose harsher sanctions.
Martin reiterated that Canada has already imposed five rounds of sanctions on Syria, and said the co-ordinated international effort was undermining Assad's grip on power.
"Our sanctions and those of international partners are beginning to bite," Martin said, adding that they are pushing Syria closer to an economic crisis that could erode support for the regime among Syria's influential business community.
Martin said Syria's currency is falling, inflation is soaring, bread lines are breaking out and electricity blackouts are taking effect.
She said the Canadian Embassy remains open in Damascus with a small staff, and that Ambassador Glenn Davidson is in constant contact with Foreign Affairs headquarters in Ottawa while he monitors the situation on the ground.
Baird and Davidson spoke by phone on Tuesday and the minister commended his envoy for outstanding work, said Martin.
The Obama administration closed the U.S. Embassy in Damascus on Monday and recalled all diplomatic staff. Britain recalled its ambassador to Syria and expressed its disgust over the situation.
Martin noted that the U.S. has not suspended its diplomatic relations; it has simply closed its embassy.
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