Russia is providing Syria with weapons to fend off external threats but has no intention to use military force to protect Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Russian foreign minister said Wednesday.
Sergei Lavrov said that Russia isn’t supplying any arms that could be used against protesters, and issued a moderate criticism of Assad for being slow to conduct vital reforms.
“We are selling weapons to Syria for its national defense, national security,” Lavrov told lawmakers in the lower house of Russian parliament. “We aren’t providing Syria with any weapons that could be used against protesters, against peaceful citizens, helping fuel the conflict. We aren't doing that, we are only helping Syria to protect its security against external threats.”
Russia has protected Syria, its key ally since the Soviet times, from U.N. sanctions over the Assad regime’s bloody suppression of a yearlong uprising, in which the U.N. says over 7,500 have been killed. Lavrov insisted that Moscow's stance was rooted in respect for the international law, not a desire to defend its client.
“We aren’t standing up for the regime or specific personalities, we are defending the international law that demands that internal conflicts are settled without foreign interference,” Lavrov told the parliament.
Moscow has vowed to block any U.N. resolution that could pave the way for a replay of what happened in Libya, where NATO action helped oust Muammar Qaddafi. It has accused the West of fueling the Syrian conflict by backing the opposition and failing to demand that its forces pull out from besieged cities along with government troops.
Lavrov said that Moscow has been working on “daily basis” with the Syrian government to urge it to take “steps that would calm the situation.” He said that other nations should use their ties to the opposition to help end violence.
Showing a degree of irritation with Assad, Lavrov said that the Syrian leader hasn’t always listened to the Russian advice and has been slow to conduct long-overdue reforms.
“Regrettably, he hasn’t always followed our advice in his activities,” Lavrov said. “He has approved useful laws reviving the system and making it more pluralistic. But it has been done after a long delay, and the proposals about launching a dialogue also have been slow to come. Meanwhile, the armed confrontation is expanding and its inertia may sweep and engulf all.”