(CNSNews.com) - Having chosen neither to endorse nor block the Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention in Libya, Russia and China are continuing to snipe from the sidelines, voicing growing frustration over a mission they say has overstepped its mandate.
With NATO having assumed command of both enforcing the no-fly zone and the additional “civilian protection mission” – attacking Muammar Gaddafi’s forces on the ground – the operation is threatening a new rift between NATO and Moscow, which has long viewed the transatlantic alliance with suspicion.
Russia and NATO members were to meet in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss Libya and, according to Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, “to confirm the limits that the U.N. Security Council placed on the participants of the conflict.”
Security Council resolution 1973 authorized a no-fly zone and “all necessary measures” short of foreign occupation to protect civilians under threat of attack by the Libyan regime. Russia and China did not veto the measure when it came to a vote on March 17, but joined non-permanent members India, Germany and Brazil in abstaining.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared Monday that the operation has gone beyond the mandate of the resolution whose sole purpose, he said, was “to ensure the protection of the civilian population.”
“We believe that the coalition’s intervention in the civil war has not, essentially, been sanctioned by the UN Security Council resolution,” the RIA Novosti news agency quoted Lavrov as saying during a press conference with his Kyrgyz counterpart.
He pointed to reports that coalition planes were attacking Gaddafi’s forces on the ground, in support of the rebels.
Lavrov also called for an immediate ceasefire, echoing calls made in Beijing over the past week.
Criticism from the Chinese government and state-run media outlets have cited – without questioning – reports on civilian fatalities released by the Gaddafi regime.
Some of the reaction has also embraced theories about hidden Western motives, including oil interests, while Beijing has underlined its customary strong view on outside interference in countries’ internal affairs.
“The implementation of the Security Council resolution is meant to offer humanitarian protection, rather than engender a greater humanitarian disaster,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu held a press conference on Thursday.
“Libya’s sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity should be respected.”
Jiang at earlier briefings referred to “the abuse of force” by coalition members.
“China always disapproves the use of force in international relations and maintains that the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and relevant norms of international law be adhered to,” she said on March 21.
After the vote on resolution 1973, Jiang explained China’s decision not to veto by saying it had taken into account the “concerns and stances of Arab countries and the Africa Union as well as the current special situation in Libya.”
State media in China charge that outside intervention has worsened the crisis in Libya.
“The operation, dominated by Western powers including France, Britain, the United States and Italy, has caused huge civilian casualties, building and infrastructure damage and hundreds of thousands of refugees,” the Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on Monday.
“The operation was initiated under the pretext of ‘humanitarian’ assistance and protecting Libyan civilians, but the results, ironically, turned out to be more civilian deaths and a deteriorating humanitarian crisis.”
An opinion piece in the state-run China Daily Monday went further, charging that ongoing air strikes beyond the establishment of the no-fly zones “look more like a show of military muscle or a case study of the law of the jungle than a serious implementation of the UN resolution.”
“We have seen so many dirty things done in the guise of beautiful excuses,” said the writer, Huang Xiangyang. “It was under the banner of building a democracy that the Iraq War was fought.”
Huang also hinted at hidden agendas driving the operation: “There has been talk of big fat oil deals from the rebels in return for the West’s support.”
Similar accusations were aired last week in the Communist Party mouthpiece, People’s Daily.
“The military involvement of Western coalitions in the Middle East is closely associated with oil reserves and strategic interests,” the paper said in a commentary. “Iraq was invaded for oil. Now it is Libya.”
“The Western world was hit hard by the global credit crunch, and now it frequently invades others with bombs and aircraft carriers, and hopes to retain money with bombs or control strategic resources with military strength.”
The critical reports in Chinese media have cited regime claims that more than 100 civilians had been killed by the coalition air strikes.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said early this week that according to intelligence reports, the Libyan regime was placing the corpses of people it had killed at the sites of coalition attacks, in a bid to blame the West for the deaths.
“The truth of the matter is we have trouble coming up with proof of any civilian casualties that we have been responsible for,” he told the CBS program "Face the Nation" on Sunday.