Diplomat: Russia to arm Syria regime with anti-aircraft missiles to prevent foreign intervention

28.05.2013 16:02

A top Russian diplomat
confirmed that Moscow will
provide Syria with state-of-the
art air defense missiles to
prevent foreign intervention in
the country.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei
Ryabkov wouldn't say whether
Russia has shipped any of the
long-range S-300 air defense
missile systems, but added that
Moscow isn't going to abandon
the deal despite strong Western
and Israeli criticism.
Ryabkov said the deal helps
restrain some "hot heads"
considering a military
intervention in Syria.
Russia has been the key ally of
Syrian President Bashar Assad 's
regime, protecting it from the
United Nations sanctions and
providing it with weapons
despite the civil war there that
has claimed over 70,000 lives.
Ryabkov's statement comes a day
after European Union's decision
to lift an arms embargo to Syrian
opposition.
After a marathon negotiating
session in Brussels, EU
governments failed to bridge
their differences and let a ban on
arming the opposition expire,
with France and Britain scoring
a victory at the expense of EU
unity.
Britain and France have made a
commitment not to deliver arms
to the Syrian opposition "at this
stage," an EU declaration said.
But EU officials said the
commitment effectively expires
on August 1.
France said on Tuesday it
reserved the right to send arms
immediately to Syrian rebels
fighting a two-year-old
insurgency but had no plans to
do so, despite an agreement by
European countries to put off
potential deliveries until August
1.
French foreign ministry
spokesman Philippe Lalliot told
reporters Paris hoped there
would be a breakthrough in
finding a political solution over
the next two months, but that
the EU decision was a political
declaration that had no legal
basis.
When asked if that meant France
could deliver weapons before
August 1 if it deemed it
necessary, Lalliot said: "Yes."
Britain said on Tuesday it did
not have to wait until an August
1 meeting of European Union
foreign ministers before taking a
decision to arm Syria's rebels,
but stressed it had not yet taken
any decision.
"I must correct one thing of
concern. I know there has been
some discussion of some sort of
August deadline. That is not the
case," Foreign Secretary William
Hague told BBC radio, adding
that Britain was "not excluded"
from arming the rebels before
August, and that it would not act
alone if it chose to do so.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon
on Tuesday implied that Israel
will retaliate in Syria should the
weapons systems reach the war-
torn country.
Ya'alon said that Russia's intent
to supply Assad's army with the
advanced anti-aircraft systems is
"a threat, as far as we’re
concerned," but asserted that the
weapons have yet to be shipped
out.
"I can’t say there’s been an
acceleration (in weapons
delivery)," he told reporters.
"The shipments haven’t set out
yet and I hope they won’t. If
they do arrive in Syria, God
forbid, we’ll know what to do.”
The defense minister's statement
appears to contradict remarks
made by IAF chief Maj. Gen.
Amir Eshel , who said last week
that Assad's regime has invested
millions in purchasing anti-
aircraft missiles, and that the
S-300 shipment "is on its way."
Russia's foreign minister said
earlier this month that Moscow
had no new plans to sell the
S-300 to Syria but left open the
possibility of delivering such
systems under an existing
contract.
Israel is concerned that the
weapons meant for Syria's
arsenal could fall into the hands
of Hezbollah , which is fighting
alongside Assad against the
rebels in Syria.
Last month Israel reportedly
launched air strikes in Syria,
targeting medium-range missiles
that had arrived from Iran and
were destined for Hezbollah.