Russia to arm Syrian regime after EU relaxes arms embargo

RUSSIA yesterday said it would push ahead with plans to deliver anti-aircraft weapons to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, in what it said was an attempt to dissuade Western intervention in the country.

Moscow also attacked the EU’s decision to relax an embargo on arming Syrian rebels, saying it threatened attempts to organise peace talks between the two sides involved in the bloody civil war.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said the shipment of an S-300 air defence system would reduce the effect of overseas interference in the troubled state.

“We think this delivery is a stabilising factor and that such steps in many ways restrain some hotheads,” he said. “[Relaxing the embargo] directly harms the prospects of convening an international conference.”

But Israel’s defence minister Moshe Yaalon hinted that his country could launch attacks if Russia ships the missiles: “I hope they will not leave, and if, God forbid, they reach Syria, we will know what to do.”

British foreign minister William Hague led the campaign to relax the European embargo in the hope of arming anti-government Syrian rebels who have endured heavy losses in recent months.

But EU member states have agreed that they will not transport weapons to the Middle Eastern nation until August at the earliest, enabling the US and Russia to proceed with plans to hold talks on the country next month.

As many as 80,000 people are believed to have been killed in the conflict, which began more than two years ago and shows little sign of abating.

Foreign nations have become increasingly concerned in recent weeks after Hezbollah guerrillas from Lebanon began openly fighting alongside al-Assad’s forces. Diplomats fear the violence could soon spill over into neighbouring countries.