MOSCOW, November 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sought to downplay longstanding criticism of Russia’s weapons trade with Syria, telling an Egyptian newspaper on Monday that Moscow is fulfilling an old contract with equipment to be used in a defensive capacity.
According to an interview published in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, Lavrov reiterated that Russian-Syrian military cooperation has allegedly always been aimed at improving Syria’s defense against external threats, and that its arms supply to Damascus currently fulfills a Soviet-era contract.
“Currently, we are fulfilling our earlier commitments, mainly relating to the supply of air defense systems,” Lavrov said. “Such weapons are defensive in nature and do not conflict with international obligations.”
The comments arrive amid persistent international criticism of Russia’s multi-billion-dollar weapons trade with the Bashar al-Assad regime, which since March 2011 has been locked into a bloody conflict with rebels and opposition forces.
The West has accused Moscow of enabling the government’s violent crackdown on what began as a protest movement but has since disintegrated into a protracted civil war.
Most recently, Turkish authorities forced down a Syrian passenger plane en route from Damascus to Moscow in October, alleging the plane was ferrying military cargo.
Lavrov denied those claims, adding that the plane was carrying radar equipment and did not violate any international laws.
Russia announced earlier this year it would suspend new arms sales to Syria until the conflict was settled.