Washington has distanced itself from US media speculation about alleged Russian sales of Yakhont missiles to the Syrian government. A US State Department spokesperson stated they have no "new" information of Russian missiles shipments to Damascus.
According to State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki, the
alleged arms deliveries reported in a New York Times article on
Thursday had been already been detailed in 2011.
“These specific missiles, the Yakhont anti-ship missile, was reported in December of 2011, and I believe in the same report there was a reference to SA-17s, which was previously reported in April 2012,” she said. “We’ve consistently raised concerns, as I mentioned, but it seems that these cases that were reported this morning have been previously reported.”
When asked if Syria has recently received any weapons from Russia, Psaki said that “we’re not aware of new shipments.”
The spokeswoman stressed that the US would oppose any transfer of weapons or assistance to the forces of Bashar Assad, but added that the recent reports in the media won’t hamper the joint effort of Washington and Moscow to stage a peace conference on Syria.
“Of course there are concerns at the same time simultaneously about any aid being provided to the regime, and that remains the case,” Psaki said. “But we can still move forward on the track towards the conference because we share a commitment to moving toward a political transition, and that has been the case.”
On Friday Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that he doesn’t understand, why the media is trying “to make a sensation” out of Russian arms shipments to Damascus.
“We don’t hide the fact that we’re supplying weapons to Syria in accordance with previously signed contracts, without violating any international agreements or our own weapon export control legislation, one of the strictest in the world,” he stressed.
“We supply defensive weapons, air defense systems. It doesn’t
break the balance of power in the region and doesn’t create
advantages in the fight against the opposition.”
Russia has underlined on numerous occasions any supplies to Syria are according to old contracts, many of which originated during the Soviet-era. The supplied weapons are tied to missile-defense and are unlikely to be renewed after their completion.
The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, has been quick to criticize Russia after the report in the New York Times, saying that the alleged Russian missiles would see president Assad feeling a lot safer if it comes to any Western intervention.
Israel also hurried to blame Russia, expressing their concerns that the arms may end up in the hands of Hezbollah militants.
The civil war between the governmental forces of President Bashar Assad and Western-backed rebels has been raging in Syria for over two years, with over 70,000 lives lost in the conflict.
Russia and the US are currently working together to hold a conference to facilitate a solution to the Syrian crisis through political dialog, which is expected to take place in the Swiss city of Geneva in June.