Syrian envoy denies Russia sending helicopters
After Clinton voice concern over 'attack helicopters' on way from Russia to Syria, ambassador says Moscow supplying Damascus with 'defensive weapons' only. State Department official says his boss 'put a little spin on it to put Russians in difficult position'
Syria's ambassador to Moscow said on Thursday that Russia is not supplying Syria's government with attack helicopters, the most specific denial yet from Moscow or Damascus of remarks by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
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"Russia is not delivering any helicopters to Syria," Ambassador Riad Haddad told Reuters, speaking two days after Clinton said the United States had information that attack helicopters were on the way from Russia to Syria.
Russia has faced increasing Western criticism over arms supplies to Syria, where the United Nations says government forces have killed more than 10,000 people in bloodshed that began with a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in March 2011.
'A little spin.' Clinton (Photo: AP)
Russia says it is fulfilling existing contracts for supplies of air defense systems, for use against external attacks, and is not sending Syria weapons that could be used in the internal conflict. Haddad echoed those statements, telling a news conference, "These are defensive weapons."
Clinton said on Tuesday that the United States was "concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically".
A source close to Russia's weapons export monopoly Rosoboronexport said on Wednesday there have been no recent contracts between Russia and Syria for the delivery of new attack helicopters to Damascus, but that Clinton may have been referring to five military helicopters which had been repaired in Russia.
The New York Times stressed that Clinton did not say whether the aircraft were "new shipments or, as administration officials say is more likely, helicopters that Syria had sent to Russia a few months ago for routine repairs and refurbishing, and which were now about to be returned."
A senior Defense Department official told the newspaper that "she put a little spin on it to put the Russians in a difficult position."
However, some officials said that whether the helicopters were new or refurbished, they were equally deadly when turned against the civilian population, the New York Times reported.