Revealed: Russia's double dealing on arms to Assad regime leaves UK isolated over Syria

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Continuing sales to regime leave UK isolated over its strategy for Syria

Russia has been accused by Western diplomats of reneging on a pledge to stop supplying arms to the Syrian regime. The assurances made over a month ago were presented by British officials as a sign that the Kremlin was distancing itself from President Bashar al-Assad and his ruling coterie.

The flow of arms has, however, continued unhindered with the Russians stressing that there was no United Nations prohibition on supplies and it was simply fulfilling its contractual obligations. As well as air- and naval-defence systems, the Kremlin may now be preparing to send Yak-130 jets which can be fitted with missiles to carry out ground attacks, according to American and European officials.

The Syrian regime has extensively used warplanes to carry out raids on heavily populated areas, leading to dozens of civilian casualties. Russia's state arms agency holds a $550m contract to supply 36 of the Yaks, which are trainers but can also be used on combat missions. Last year, a Russian-operated ship carrying helicopter gunships and air-defence missiles was forced to turn back to Russia, after its British insurers withdrew coverage. The aircraft were subsequently sent through a different shipping company.

While the Assad regime continues to receive weapons, from Iran as well as Russia, a British attempt to provide military aid to the Syrian rebels failed at a European Union meeting in Brussels today.

There was agreement, instead, on an amendment which would allow more "non-lethal" assistance to the opposition. But the outcome of the meeting in Brussels made it very clear that David Cameron's Government had been isolated in its efforts to strengthen militarily the moderate revolutionary factions, who have been increasingly sidelined by jihadist groups receiving arms and money from backers in the Gulf states.

Russia has insisted that it is within its rights to keep arming the regime as there are no UN resolutions prohibiting this. Anatoly Isaikin, the director of Rosoboronexport, said: "In the absence of [UN] sanctions, we are continuing to fulfil our contract obligations. We are mostly shipping air-defence systems and repair equipment intended for various branches of the military."

However, it is the Syrian regime's air defences, overhauled and upgraded with Russian help, which have been a powerful deterrent against the West declaring a "no-fly zone" of the type which, after it became a bombing campaign, brought down Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

Western officials also claim that Moscow has refused to provide full details of the contractual obligations they have to fulfil and there is also evidence that the regime is getting further Russian arms through third parties.

Critics point to the British proposal on arming the rebels as an example of lack of clarity in the Western approach. The move had been opposed from the outset by Germany and Scandinavian countries as well as by Baroness Ashton, the British head of EU foreign affairs. "There is no shortage of arms in Syria," said Jean Asselborn, the Luxembourger Foreign Minister.

The French, who had backed the UK position, have become more lukewarm since the troops they sent to Mali found Western arms supplied to Libyan rebels in the jihadist arsenal. Yesterday, the Hollande government seemed satisfied with the agreement on non-lethal aid. "Technical assistance and protection of civilians will be easier," said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

In the US, the outgoing Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had advocated arming the rebels. The new defence secretary, Leon Panetta, also backed the move and stated that the head of US military, General Martin Dempsey, was also on board. However, General Dempsey and Barack Obama have publicly urged caution in the past over getting entangled in Syria.

The Russians, on the other hand, insist that their opposition to UN resolutions against the Assad regime, bitterly criticised by the US and Britain, has not stopped the building of growing links with the Syrian opposition.

Ahmad al-Khatib, the head of the Syrian National Coalition for Opposition Forces – set up at the instigation of the West to replace the Syrian National Council, which had become faction-ridden – has offered to hold direct talks with the regime.

Today, Ali Haidar, Mr Assad's minister for national reconciliation, responded: "We, the government and me personally, will meet, without exceptions, Syrian opposition groups inside and outside Syria."

It remains to be seen whether the talks will actually take place, but UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman held the offers were "the most promising thing we've heard on Syria recently".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Jeremy Clarkson
people
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own