Moscow Refuses to Stop Arms Sales to Syria
Russia on Tuesday adamantly rejected calls it stop arming Damascus irrespective of emerging reports of war crimes by forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Russia will "abide by existing contracts to deliver weapons to Syria," referring to deals for aircraft, missiles, and other heavy weapons.
“Russia enjoys good and strong military technical cooperation with Syria, and we see no reason today to reconsider it,” Antonov told reporters.
Moscow, a staunch ally of Damascus dating back to the Soviet era, has billions in trade agreements tied to Assad's regime and has systemically shielded Syria - its last ally in the Arab world - from UN sanctions.
The Syrian port of Tartus is now the only naval base Russia has outside the former Soviet Union. A Russian navy squadron made a call there in January in a show of support for Assad, whose bloody suppression of a popular uprising against his rule claimed at least 7,500 civilian lives.
Also in January, a Russian ship allegedly carrying tons of munitions made a dash for Syria after telling officials in EU member Cyprus, where it had made an unexpected stop, that it was heading for Turkey.
Assad's forces has systemically shelled civilian neighborhoods it says are harboring rebel fighters. A 26-day shelling of the flashpoint city of Homs that temporarily ended on March 1 resulted in at least 700 civilians killed.
In the aftermath reports of "mop up" operations consisting of systemic rape, torture, and mass executions by Assad's forces emerged. On Monday, rights activists reported that the bodies of 26 women and 21 children were found in Homs.
The 47were killed after rebel fighters had pulled out and Syrian forces had retaken the area.
Antonov said Russia’s supply of weapons to Syria is in line with international law and will continue. “Russian-Syrian military cooperation is perfectly legitimate,” he said.
“The only thing that worries us today is the security of our citizens,” Antonov said in a reference to Russian military personnel in Syria tasked with training Assad's forces in using the weapons Moscow provides.
He declined to say how many Russian troops are currently stationed in Syria.
“It’s part of our contractual obligations,” said Antonov. “When we supply weapons, we have to provide training.”
Antonov also made an angry show of dismissing charges that Russia has sent special forces officers to assist Syrian troops.
“There are no (Russian) special forces with rifles and grenade launchers running around,” he said.