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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid