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Russia sticks with arms sale to Syria despite EU action

May 28, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell

BEIRUT -- Angered that the European Union has decided to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian conflict, Russia said Monday that Moscow will not abandon plans to sell sophisticated antiaircraft missiles to the government of President Bashar Assad, despite strong objections from Western nations and Israel.

Russian officials used some of their strongest language to date on the Syrian crisis in denouncing the European Union’s decision on Monday to end its ban on arms sales to those fighting in Syria. Russia is a longtime ally of Assad and a traditional arms supplier to the Syria government.

Two European nations, Britain and France, have indicated they may consider providing weapons to the Syrian opposition, but not until after Aug. 1.

Several Russian officials said the European Union move undermined a U.S.-Russian peace initiative aimed at jump-starting negotiations between the two sides in the Syrian conflict. Moscow and Washington are hoping to sponsor a peace conference in Geneva next month.

“This just adds fuel to the fire,” Aleksander Grushko, Russia’s envoy to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said of the European decision, the Russian RT news service reported.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters in Moscow that the S-300 air defense system could act as a deterrent to foreign intervention in Syria and would restrain “warmongers,” RT reported. The state-of-the-art S-300 is designed to intercept ballistic missiles.

The Foreign Ministry official would not say if the S-300's components had been shipped to Syria yet.

Israel has called on Russia not to deliver the missiles to Syria. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon signaled Tuesday that the Israeli military is prepared to strike shipments of advanced Russian weapons headed to Syria, the Associated Press reported.

Israel is believed to have been behind three airstrikes this year on Syria, reportedly aimed at advanced weapons headed for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that is a close ally of Assad.

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