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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More