REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman warned Friday against attempts to supply weapons to Syrian opposition forces, arguing that because Al Qaeda was a “confirmed presence amid the illegal armed groups,” arming the opposition could clash with international law.
Some members of the “Friends of Syria” group that met last week in Tunisia argued for arming the Syrian rebels. Saudi Arabia said it was an "excellent idea."
With Al Qaeda in the mix, “how do such statements correspond with … international law?” Alexander Lukashevich said, adding that Russia will take the matter to United Nations counter-terrorism bodies.
The government of Syrian President Bashar Assad blames "terrorists" for much of the violence in the country, a charge rejected by the opposition, as well as many experts and foreign governments. But Al Qaeda has publicly sided with the Syrian opposition, and U.S. intelligence officials believe that some of its members have infiltrated Syrian opposition groups, which may not be aware that they’re there.
Russian officials have repeatedly defended their stand against a U.N. Security Council resolution backing an Arab League plan that called on Assad to step down. Their veto was condemned by human rights groups and Western nations that said it allowed bloodshed to continue.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended the step again Friday, accusing the West of “being hostage to the artificial scheme based on the wrong approaches of what is going on in Syria.”
In an interview with the daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Lavrov also praised the recent Syrian vote on a new constitution, saying it showed “a majority of the Syrian population supported the reforms carried out by the authorities.”
His words echoed those of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the front-runner in the coming presidential election, who said that as far as he knew, Assad was prepared to negotiate with the opposition. Putin argued that the Security Council resolution that Russia vetoed was problematic.
Assad would have had to take his troops out of the cities, Putin said in a Thursday meeting with foreign newspaper editors. “What is that but a demand for Assad to crawl into a wooden mackintosh and not hear the music playing in his home because he is being buried? He will never agree to that.”
-- Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin delivers a speech as he issues an appeal to Russia's people in Moscow on Friday. Credit: Alexey Druzhinin / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images