Washington, Feb. 16 – Russian expressions of continued support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad have analysts and diplomats worried that Moscow’s policies may undermine a new Western push, outlined this week by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, to end Syria’s two-year conflict.
The Syrian war – a proxy war between the Iran-backed regime, Sunni-backed opposition forces, and Kurdish groups – has left nearly 70,000 dead and has sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming across Syria’s borders into Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon. Jordanian officials have especially found themselves scrambling to provide aid for the estimated 300,000 Syrian refugees in their territory, while the stream of refugees into Lebanon increasingly seems set to destabilize the country.
Anatoly Isaikin, the director of Russia’s state arms trader, said this week that the Kremlin will continue to provide weapons to the Damascus in the context of existing “contract obligations.” Russia’s position on the issue has been consistent throughout the Syrian conflict, with Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov making an almost identical statement a year ago.
European Union nations have become increasingly vocal in criticizing Russia’s role in propping up Assad and thereby extending the Syrian conflict. British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Thursday called on Russia to change its stance, saying that the protracted conflict risked creating “a new generation of battle-hardened militants” that would threaten Europe.
Meanwhile, Finnish officials announced this week the interception last month of a Syria-bound Russian arms shipment containing nearly 10 tons of tank parts. Helsinki cited a European Union ban on all sales, delivery, transfers and exports of weapons to Syria.