News / Europe

Russia Defends Arms Sale to Syria, Blasts US

Tartus, SyriaTartus, Syria
x
Tartus, Syria
Tartus, Syria
Russia on Wednesday defended its sale of arms to Syria and stepped up the rhetoric by accusing the United States of providing weapons to the Syrian rebels.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow that Russia is supplying "anti-air defense systems" to Damascus in a deal that "in no way violates international law." He said this "contrasts with what the United States is doing ... which is providing arms to the Syrian opposition that are being used against the Syrian government."

His response comes after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Washington is concerned about reports Russia is sending attack helicopters to the Syrian government, a longtime Russian ally.

Clinton also rejected Russia's claim that its arms shipments to Syria are unrelated to the uprising, calling it "patently untrue." She said the U.S. has urged Russia to stop those arms transfers.

Given its strong economic and military ties with Syria, experts say Russia has become a key player in the Syrian crisis, now in its 15th month of an uprising by government opponents.  

Russia, and before that the Soviet Union, have for decades provided economic and military assistance to the Syrian government, including MiG fighter planes and sophisticated air defenses.

Moscow also maintains a Soviet-era naval facility in the Syrian Mediterranean Sea port of Tartus and plans to modernize the base to accommodate larger warships, including aircraft carriers.

Close relationship

Experts say the Kremlin's close relationship with Damascus has colored Russia’s reaction to the crisis in Syria. Moscow has resisted Western efforts against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, even as key world powers other than China are demanding he leave office.

Russia joined China in vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the Syrian president to step down.  U.S. Secretary of State Clinton called the vote “a travesty.”

Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus at Princeton University and New York University, says Moscow used its veto power because it felt betrayed when it abstained on a Security Council resolution establishing a no-fly zone over Libya in March of last year.

“Russia was told that force will not be used, only the enforcement of a no-fly zone over [Moammar] Gadhafi’s Libya,” says Cohen.  “When American-led NATO went to war against Gadhafi in Libya, Moscow saw that as a broken promise.”

Cohen says Moscow vowed not to take Washington’s word again regarding the use of force.

“So when that issue against the Syrian government arose [at the U.N. Security Council] more recently, the Russians vetoed it and it was not surprising," he said. "They had Libya on their minds.”

Serious Damage

Robert Legvold, with Columbia University, says the Russian action at the United Nations has had negative consequences.

“The Russian position on Syria, as the China position on Syria, has done very serious damage to the relationship with the U.S. and the European Union members," Legvold said, adding that it has “bruised, angered and frustrated” the Obama administration.

Despite its vetoes at the United Nations, Moscow has endorsed the peace plan of international envoy Kofi Annan. That cease-fire has failed to take hold since it was put forth in April amid attacks by government forces and anti-government rebels.  

Experts say Russia has tried to play a mediating role in the conflict, hosting Syrian government officials in Moscow and, separately, members of the opposition.  

John Parker of the National Defense University says Moscow can exert pressure on Syria.

“But it doesn’t seem to have been very successful so far,” said Parker, expressing his own views on the issue. “If you would really press the Russians, they think that eventually, Bashar al-Assad will fall. But they want to slow down the process and keep it from becoming as violent, as it has the potential to become violent.”

Regional Fears

Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, says the “Syrian situation has a very grave potential of impacting not only Syria in a very bad way, but the region.”  

Churkin says the region “is extremely fragile, from Libya to Iran. So the prospect of quite dramatic developments not just in Syria but regionally, is there,” he said.

The U.S., meanwhile has warned Russia that it will not be party to any Syria peace plan that includes Iran.

Lavrov has called for a broader international contact group on the crisis to include Iran. Clinton says there is no place for Iran in those talks because of its active support for the Syrian military and pro-government militiamen.

"The Iranians are bragging publicly about the advice, the material support, the techniques and tactics that they have been providing the Syrian regime," U.S state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said last week. "They are proud of the role they have played in the regime's use of violence.

"With the Russians, the issue is a question of how best to end the violence. The Russians have supported the Kofi Annan six-point plan."

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs