Published time: May 17, 2013 12:05
Edited time: May 17, 2013 13:20
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a joint news conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon following the talks in Sochi. (RIA Novosti)
Russia’s weapons supplies to Syria are fully in compliance with the law and do not give the government troops any advantage over the rebels, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said commenting on the hype in Western media.
“I don’t understand why mass media are trying to make a sensation out of the fact. We do not conceal it that we supply weapons to Syria according to signed contracts, violating neither any international agreements, nor our own weapon export control legislation, one of the strictest in the world,” Lavrov said at a press conference on Friday.
He stressed all of the weapons supplied are in fact air defense systems, and thus cannot impact the existing power balance between the Assad forces and the rebels.
Lavrov’s remark comes in response to the recent uproar in the media, concerning Russia’s allegedly sending Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria and earlier reports on supplies of S-300 anti-missile systems, which are capable of intercepting ballistic targets.
Anti-aircraft S-300V missile system (RIA Novosti)
Russia has underlined on numerous occasions any supplies to Syria are according to old contracts, many of which are Soviet-era, the supplied weapons are missile-defense ones and after completing these contracts no new deals are planned.
Lavrov and Ban talk Syrian deadlock as more evidence of rebels atrocities emerge
The Russian FM commented on Russia’s weapons supplies at a press-conference following his talks with the UN chief. The Syrian crisis dominated the agenda of the meeting, which is part of a recent flurry of diplomatic efforts to end the violence in the country, preceded by Vladimir Putin holding similar talks with worlds’ top officials, including the US secretary of state and the British and Israeli leaders.
The S-300 is a series of Russian long range surface-to-air missile systems, designed to intercept ballistic missiles and regarded as most potent weaponry of its class.
The Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles can carry 200kg warheads as far as 300km long, they are also capable of cruising several meters above the water surface, making them difficult to detect.
Eventually, a joint initiative was authored by Moscow and Washington to hold peace conference on Syria, planned for June.
Before the conference happens though, both the US and Russia have several stumbling blocks to overcome, such as divisions inside the Syrian opposition, making it unclear who exactly can represent it at the conference, and harsh preconditions set by the rebels.
“In contrast to the Syrian government, which has responded quite positively to the Russian-American initiative, the opposition’s answer was quite vague. They said that they welcome any initiatives that will help to stop the violence, but before that Assad must go – reiterating their stance, which has been the cause of the deadlock for many months, ” said Lavrov on Thursday in an interview to Al Mayadeen.
As for the US it is expected to object to Iran’s participation, on which Moscow insists.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a news conference following the talks in Sochi. (RIA Novosti)
Another thing is that when Western leaders are talking to Russia they seem to be on the same page with Moscow’s position, agreeing on the need for negotiating peace, but as soon as they leave, they are once again calling for Assad to step down and promise increasing support to the rebels.
The UK and France have become increasingly vocal in their calls to supply the insurgent groups with arms. British and French efforts at lifting the EU embargo on Syria are however strongly opposed by Austria, showing a divide on the issue in Europe.
Meanwhile, the situation in Syria aggravates with more reports of atrocities on both sides of the conflict.
Human Rights Watch has issued a report providing evidence of torture used in a government prison in the city of Raqqa, in eastern Syria. Human rights activists were allowed by opposition forces who gained control of the city to examine the facility.
A shocking video from the same city, released this week shows three men from the government troops being publicly executed by rebels in the city square. The killings have been confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
And the episode added up to a series of reports on atrocities performed by the rebels, which emerged this week.
Earlier, another YouTube video was posted showing fighters of the Al Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front in Syria executing 11 government soldiers. Still earlier this week another shocking video was released featuring a Syrian rebel eating a lung of a slain government soldier in what the insurgent described as an act of revenge.
Growing evidence of atrocities committed by rebel groups, however did not prevent the UN from voting for a resolution condemning Assad and praising the opposition. Russia voted against the document, describing it as one-sided.
Russia still urges all of the sides to resolve the crisis by negotiations, something Lavrov reiterated on Friday, saying a peace conference should be held “the sooner the better.”
He was echoed by Ban Ki-moon’s call to “not lose the momentum.”