Last updated: 18 January, 2012

Russia defends mystery Syria shipment

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday defended Russia’s trade with Syria amid growing controversy over a mysterious shipment that reportedly delivered a supply of arms to Damascus.

Lavrov was asked to address criticism from Washington’s UN Ambassador Susan Rice that followed reports that the shipment brought munitions to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces amid their crackdown on protesters.

“I even heard that Susan Rice was requesting some clarification,” Lavrov told reporters at an annual briefing outlining Russia’s foreign policy views.

“We do not feel we have to explain or justify anything because we are not violating any international agreements or UN Security Council resolutions.

“We are only trading items with Syria that are not banned by international law,” he said without explicitly confirming that the Chariot charter craft was carrying Russian arms.

The ship docked a Russian-leased Syrian port last week after making an unscheduled stopover in Cyprus and then pledging to Cypriot authorities that the craft would travel to Turkey instead.

The Chariot then left Cyprus and headed for Syria’s port at Tartus that this month was also visited by a Russian naval flotilla.

Russia has angered both Washington and the European Union by refusing to back the West’s arms embargo on its Soviet-era ally, despite violence that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 5,000 people.

Moscow still maintains close Soviet-era ties with the secular regime and remains the main supplier of weapons to Damascus.

Lavrov said Russia had no intention of joining the West’s arms embargo despite pressure from Washington.

“Without question, we cannot view unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union or anyone else as legitimate for Russian actions.

“Unilateral sanctions always undermine collective efforts, whether it concerns Iran, Syria or any anyone else.