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Putin: Not Ruling Out Sending More Arms to Assad

Russian President says his country would not rule out sending fresh arms to the Syrian regime, warns against arming rebels.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 6/19/2013, 4:45 AM

Putin in Israel
Putin in Israel
Flash 90

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that his country would not rule out sending fresh arms to the Syrian regime and warned the West against arming "criminals" in the rebellion, AFP reported.

"If we conclude such contracts, then we will deliver on such contracts," he told reporters after a G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

"We are supplying arms to the legitimate government in accordance with legal contracts," Putin said after G8 leaders had called for peace talks on the Syrian conflict "as soon as possible."

Russia recently indicated that it plans to provide President Bashar Al-Assad with advanced S-300 missiles despite a request by Israel not to do so.

Referring to Western suggestions of arming Syria's rebels, Putin said, "We are calling on all our partners to once again think thoroughly before taking this very dangerous step."

"Europe wants to send arms to these people? And what happens then to these arms? Who will control in whose hands and where they will end up? Maybe in Europe?" he said, according to AFP.

Putin also rejected U.S. and European assertions that Syria's regime had used chemical weapons.

"We do not have facts pointing to the use of such weapons by the Syrian government," Putin said.

"I assure you that, by far, not all G8 members believe that (chemical arms) were used by the Syrian army. Some agree with our opinion that there is no such data."

Despite coming under pressure from other G8 leaders to back away from Moscow's support for Syria's regime, Putin denied that he felt isolated at the summit.

"Of course, it is not so," he said. "It was a joint discussion. Not a single time did it happen that Russia was left alone in defending its approaches to the solution of the Syrian problem."

The U.S. government announced last week that the Syrian army used chemical weapons against rebel forces on multiple occasions, adding that America will increase the “scope and scale” of its assistance to rebels in Syria in response.

An aide to Putin said on Friday that Russia is not convinced by the evidence which the U.S. provided alleging that the Assad government used chemical weapons against rebel forces.

Putin himself on Sunday said that the Syrian rebels are “cannibals” and should not be given arms, referring to video footage posted on the Internet last month of a rebel fighter eating the heart of a government soldier.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin met on Monday and, while they agreed that they disagree about the situation in Syria, they pledged to at least try to keep alive a frail and much-delayed effort to hold a Geneva peace conference.