Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Wednesday that arming Syrian rebels would breach international law, after Western powers dropped growing hints about giving military aid.
Speaking in London after talks with his British counterpart William Hague, Lavrov also reiterated that it was for Syrians to decide the future of President Bashar al-Assad.
Lavrov’s comments came a day after Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would consider ignoring a European Union arms ban and supplying weapons to Syrian rebels if necessary.
“Arming the opposition is in breach of international law,” Lavrov said at a joint press conference with Hague, British Defence Minister Philip Hammond and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
“International law does not allow, does not permit supplies of arms to non-governmental actors and in our point of view it is a violation of international law.”
Lavrov rejected any chance of Russia urging Assad to step aside.
“I believe the destiny of Bashar al-Assad should be decided by the Syrians themselves,” he said.
With the conflict in Syria worsening, Western powers have stepped up non-military support for Syria’s rebels, even as Russia has continued to arm its ally Assad.
Britain is currently giving “non-lethal” support to the rebels but Hague and Hammond refused to rule out the possibility of arming them.
“We’ve never ruled out anything in the future — we don’t know how grave the situation will become,” Hague told the press conference.
Hammond meanwhile said that Britain would “keep the situation under constant review.”
“What you can be assured of is that any action we take will be legal, will be clearly with a strong basis in international law,” he insisted.
The European Union last month amended its embargo to allow member nations to supply “non-lethal” equipment and training to the opposition but stopped short of lifting the embargo entirely.
Cameron however told lawmakers on Tuesday that Britain “might have to do things in our own way” if the EU would not arm the rebels when Britain thought it necessary.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday also suggested the bloc may need to rethink its strategy.