Published — Thursday 30 May 2013
Last update 30 May 2013 5:03 am
THE European Union’s decision to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian opposition has provided Russia with a new defense of its controversial weapons deliveries to President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Russia reacted with fury to the EU’s decision Monday — advocated primarily by Britain and France — to lift its arms embargo on the rebels fighting to oust Assad. Moscow, a key backer of Assad, has since escalated its saber-rattling, announcing it intends to keep its contract to supply the Syrian regime with sophisticated S-300 missiles, which can shoot down both incoming missiles and warplanes. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu implied yesterday that the EU’s decision had untied Moscow’s hands, hinting that Russia could now supply weapons banned by international treaties.
“Every decision has two sides. If one side lifts its restrictions, then the other side may no longer feel compelled to keep its previously adopted obligations,” Shoigu said while on a visit to Helsinki. Analysts said the comments reflected the Kremlin’s apparent belief that it was obligated to support its biggest Middle East ally. One of the biggest questions now is whether Moscow will in fact follow through on its threat to supply Syria with S-300s — a prospect that even brought Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russia for private talks with President Vladimir Putin earlier this month.
Israel has already implied it might wipe out any S-300 shipments with new bombing raids, with Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warning on Tuesday that Israel would “know what to do” if Russia delivered the missiles to Assad. Regional expert Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Centre said that “Russia could use the EU embargo to strengthen its own position concerning the S-300 deliveries.”
“They are going to use this argument,” said Malashenko.
But he added that Russia was unlikely to fulfil its S-300 contract if Moscow and Washington were successful in their ongoing efforts to arrange a Syria peace conference to get the two warring sides engaged in their first round of direct talks.