News Brief — Sept 4, 2013
As Obama gathers congressional support for a U.S. military strike on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that such action would be viewed very gravely by Russia.
Emphasising that U.S. military action against Syria without U.N. approval would be an act of aggression, Putin also dismissed U.S. accusations against the regime of Bashar Assad.
Speaking to the Associated Press and Russian state TV, President Putin said claims that the Syrian Army had used chemical weapons during recent fighting in Damascus were “absolutely absurd”.
The evidence for such allegations was inconclusive and unconvincing, the Russian president said:
“We do not have exact details of what happened,” he said of the Syrian Army’s alleged use of chemical weapons. “Is it a chemical weapon or just some chemical pollutants?”
Nonetheless, when asked Putin said he wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Russia voting in favour of military action if it could be proved conclusively that the Syrian Army had indeed used such weapons.
“If there are data that the chemical weapons have been used, and used specifically by the regular army, this evidence should be submitted to the UN Security Council,” Mr Putin said.
“And it ought to be convincing. It shouldn’t be based on some rumours and information obtained by special services through some kind of eavesdropping, some conversations and things like that.”
If such evidence were produced it needed to be “obvious and prove beyond doubt who did it and what means were used”.
The interview on the eve of the G20 summit in St Petersburg and the Congressional vote on Syria was clearly timed to signal to Obama that Russia would sit idly by if the U.S. embarked on further military action.
“We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it in case the situation develops toward the use of force or otherwise”, he said. “We have our plans.”
Without naming any country in particular, Mr Putin hinted that Russia might help Syria’s regional allies militarily. With the suggestion that it could supply an air defence missile system — due to be delivered to Syria but presently on hold — to another country if the U.S. launched strikes on Syria.
The implication being that Russia would go ahead with the cancelled sale — due to U.S. and Israeli pressure — of the feared S-300 air defence system to Iran.
Although Iran has developed its own short and medium range air defence weapons, it still lacks a long-range system to complete its air defence network. If Russia were to go-ahead with the sale of the S-300 to Iran it would effectively prevent the sort of air strikes that the U.S. seems to be contemplating for Syria.
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