Russia on Monday signaled that it would not sign new weapons contracts with Syria so long as the situation in the country remains unstable, state media reported.
"Russia, as well as other countries, is concerned by the situation in Syria," said Vyacheslay Dzirkaln, deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency. "We are not talking about new arms supplies to that country", but added that Russia will continue with previously agreed exports.
Putting it at odds with the West, Russia has blocked the U.N.’s Security Council from taking strong, punitive action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and is seen as Syria’s key arms supplier, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The move could be a major blow to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting to stay in control after more than a year of popular protests and a brutal government crackdown.
Russia has been the long-time supplier of arms to Syria and weapons sales have more than doubled in recent years, CNN reported. According to Congressional Research Service, Russia sold Syria $4.7 billion in arms from 2007 to 2010, compared with $2.1 billion from 2003 to 2006.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday said he welcomes the decision, but added that Britain ‘‘would like to see a halt of all deliveries of weaponry to a regime that has embarked on the killing of so many of its own people.’’
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington saw the Russian statement as a good sign but was still seeking further clarification.
‘‘We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the Russian government at a variety of levels,’’ Ventrell told reporters. ‘‘ We've expressed our belief that continued arms sales to the regime will only further throw flames on the fire, so we want them to stop all arms transfers, not only existing contracts but any new contracts as well.’’
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Monday said that Russia is still committed to a peace plan by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan, saying that the Syrian government and opposition groups should be ‘‘forced’’ to start a dialogue.
Annan’s six-point peace plan was to begin with a cease-fire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Assad, to be followed by political dialogue. The truce, however, never took hold, and almost 300 U.N. observers sent to monitor the cease-fire are now confined to their hotels due to the escalating violence.
Hague on Monday called on Russia to show ‘‘a strong commitment to secure the implementation and mandate the implementation of what Kofi Annan has put forward.’’