News / Europe

Russia Defends Arms Sale to Syria, Blasts US

Tartus, SyriaTartus, Syria
x
Tartus, Syria
Tartus, Syria
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

Turkish Law Gives Spy Agency Controversial Powers

Parliament approves legislation to bolster powers of intelligence service, which government claims is necessary to modernize and deal with new threats Turkey faces More

Video Face of American Farmer Changing

Average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Face of American Farmer is Changingi
X
Mike Osborne
April 18, 2014
The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid