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EU Lifts Syrian Arms Embargo. Why Are The Russians So Livid?

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There were two perplexing details in this morning’s announcement that the EU had agreed* to lift the arms embargo on Syria’s rebels. First, William Hague very clearly indicated that the UK (and presumably France) had no immediate plans to arm the rebels. But then Russia jumped in with a strident complaint. If the EU decision was a typical Brussels nothing-burger, why were the Russians up in arms?

“This does direct damage to the prospects for convening the international conference,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Itar-Tass news agency. Calling the decision “a manifestation of double standards”, he went on to defend Russia’s arming of Assad. “We consider these supplies a stabilising factor and believe such steps will deter some hotheads from considering scenarios that would turn the conflict international with the involvement of outside forces.”

So why are the Russians so bent out of shape? As usual when the EU is involved, it’s complicated. Syrian rebels have continued to receive Jordanian-financed arms from Croatia, a country that is set to join the EU on July 1. If the arms embargo had not been lifted, this weapons spigot would presumably have had to have been shut off. The EU’s decision, apart from allowing France and the UK to act in the future, also keeps this key status quo arrangement in place. Given the mysteries of the Balkan arms trade, Croatian arms exporters and their Arab paymasters (perhaps someone with a bigger wallet than oil-poor Jordan is actually paying the bill) could now step up sales and deliveries. Russia is clearly hoping that Assad can make gains on the ground to set the stage for a nice peace conference that would cement his hold on power.

There have been conflicting reports about whether Russia would go ahead with the sale of advanced air defense weapons to Syria. The most important effect of the EU’s decision will be to almost certainly ensure that those Russian arms sales go through. Both sides are helping their Syrian proxies prepare for the peace conference by escalating the war; it’s not a good time to be a civilian in Syria.

[May YouTube video of Syrian rebels using Croatian arms.]

*’Agreed’ is perhaps too strong a word—see this morning’s FT for an account of how the UK and France used the threat of expiring sanctions to force reluctant EU members to accept the lifting of the arms embargo.

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  • Anthony

    Your lastest Quick Take brings to mind that arm manufacturers and profiteers make money globally no matter who combatants are or their regional/state differences. You’re correct it is never a good time to be a civilian when heavy arms are being trafficked in war torn areas.

  • Alexander Scipio

    Rather than idly standing around wetting their pants awaiting Assad to diver himself to their courts and jails (at best; a noose like saddam’s at worst, and rather than sending arms to enable yet more killing as they await assad’s seeing the light to cause him to walk peacefully into the arms of those who want him in The Hague, how about this: Britain, France & America each losses the ability to insert a sniper team to suck him deniably, and each losses the capability to drop a JDAM on his head. Rather than pretending to care about civilians they help murder by not stopping Assad, rather than pulling up their diapers awaiting his agreement to trial at the ICC, why not act the adult? Rather than continue to at this game of immaculate conception of a peaceful Syria? The role of Great Powers is to keep the peace. Assassinate him or stop comaining. Are their just no adults left in the West? None?

  • Corlyss

    “So why are the Russians so bent out of shape?”

    Well, the last time there was a war between US and Russian proxies (Gulf 91), Russian weaponolgy was left a smoking ruin in the dessert. That turned out to be a bad thing for the west because China had just invested a bunch of money in Russian weapons. They saw their money melted into the Iraqi and Kuwaiti sands. From that moment, they began systematically proliferating nuclear technology thru their puppets in NoKor.

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