Russia will keep on supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government if the U.S. launches strikes against the Middle East country, President Vladimir Putin said.
“Will we help Syria? We will,” Putin told reporters in St. Petersburg today after discussing the Syrian issue with U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders at a Group of 20 summit. “We are already helping them with weapons and we are cooperating in the economic and humanitarian spheres.”
Putin is resisting Obama’s drive to drum up support for a military strike in Syria, without saying how far he will go in supporting Assad. When asked if Putin would rule out Russia’s direct involvement in a Syrian conflict, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “we don’t know how things will pan out.”
The Russian leader signaled on the eve of the two-day summit that his country may resume deliveries of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria if Obama carries through on his threat to attack selected targets to punish Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Aug. 26 said his country “won’t fight with anyone” when asked about a possible reaction to Western strikes against Syria.
Russia, which has embarked this decade on the largest rearmament program in more than 20 years, maintains its only military base outside of the former Soviet Union at the Syrian port of Tartus.
The country has been reinforcing its naval presence in the east Mediterranean near Syria while Obama used the G-20 meeting to enlist support for an attack. Most countries in the group oppose such action, Putin said.
Obama is also facing an uphill task to win the backing of Congress. Russia and China say they are unswayed by the U.S. assertions blaming Assad for the Aug. 21 chemical attack that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus. Putin said today the attack was “provocations” by rebels involved in a 2 1/2 civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead.
European and U.S. stocks declined after Putin’s comments. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index dropped as much as 0.5 percent from yesterday’s close, before rebounding to trade up 0.3 percent at 305.54 at 3:45 p.m. in London. The S&P 500 fell as much as 0.9 percent and traded 0.3 percent lower at 1,650.59 at 10:47 a.m in New York.
Putin said this week that congressional approval would “legitimize aggression,” adding that only the United Nations Security Council can endorse the strikes. Putin, whose country wields a veto as a permanent member of the Security Council, said he needs proof that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to back action.
“Russia may step up military assistance to Syria” in case of an attack, Fyodor Lukyanov, head of the Moscow-based Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, said by phone. “Putin doesn’t consider that the demonization of Assad places him under any obligation to limit cooperation with him.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in St. Petersburg at firstname.lastname@example.org; Henry Meyer in St. Petersburg at email@example.com
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