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

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid