Secretary of State Hillary Clinton isn’t backing down on her criticism of Russia. On Wednesday, Clinton called on Russia to stop sending weapons to the government in Syria.
Her claim that Moscow is sending attack helicopters to Syria was denied by the Russian government.
Anchor Lisa Mullins talks with military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer.
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Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is “The World”. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is not backing down on her criticism of Russia. Today, Clinton called on Russia to stop sending weapons to the government in Syria. Yesterday, she accused the Russians of sending attack helicopters to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. She said the move risks escalating the Syrian conflict dramatically. Russia’s response was to deny it sending any weapons that could be used by the government against civilians. Moscow did admit though that it’s fulfilling previously existing contracts to supply Damascus with air defense military systems. Pavel Felgenhauer is a military analyst for the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He says that the Russian government’s support for the Assad regime in Syria is more than political.
Pavel Felgenhauer: About ten years ago, Moscow wrote off more than ten billion dollars of Syrian owed arms debt in the understanding that the Syrians will buy more and pay cash. And so right now imposing an arms embargo would mean that all outstanding contracts will be lost or payments that are in the pipeline will not reach the Russian arms trading companies. And since the same thing more or less happened just a year ago with Libya when Russia agreed tacitly to an arms embargo and Russian arms sellers says this was billions of dollars. Now the position is we won’t do it as in Libya, we will not allow any arms embargoes at all.
Mullins: So you’re saying that the pressure by the arms dealers, the financial pressure rings more true and more loudly in the Kremlin than the international political pressure to stop arming the Syrian government?
Felgenhauer: Absolutely. I mean these guys are personal friends of President Vladimir Putin. They are closely connected, actually they are connected to the KGB. They are connected to the St. Petersburg clan ruling in Russia right now. So at any time, their influence is more than the influence of the international community or the Arab Muslim Sunni community, world community. Yes, of course.
Mullins: Since we’re getting contradictory statements coming from Moscow saying that it is not sending helicopters or such weaponry, and in the United States, Hillary Clinton saying, “Yes, indeed you are. And stop.” What does your reporting tell you?
Felgenhauer: Maybe they’re both saying the truth. For the Middle East, Russia has armed Ukraine and Belarus and many, several other former Soviet Republics. So weapons from their may be reaching Syria, weapons that the Syrians actually need for their campaign against the opposition. But these weapons may not be sent by the Russian official arms trading monopoly, but by freelancers.
Mullins: If Russia “loses Syria”, I mean if the Assad regime is doomed, there’s going to be a lot of bloodshed before that happens. What does this mean to Russia?
Felgenhauer: Well, we have a former naval base in Syria. Well, that’s symbolically more important. We have military advisers since the Cold War still working there with the Syrian military. We have a close relationship, a very close relationship with the Syrian intelligence services, between Russian and Syrian intelligence. So Syria has been for many decades a kind of important intelligence hub for the Russians in the Middle East and actually this is our last foothold left there and we if lose that foothold, it’s understood that Russia won’t have much influence or intelligence presence left in the Middle East. So this is seen as a very serious loss and it’s not clear what we win if we go with the international community. It will be we won nothing.
Mullins: That’s Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst in Moscow.
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