Russian arms exporter says supplies to Syria will go on

MOSCOW Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:12pm IST

A Free Syrian Army fighter holds an RPG launcher as another fighter fires his weapon during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on the frontline of Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood February 12, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

A Free Syrian Army fighter holds an RPG launcher as another fighter fires his weapon during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on the frontline of Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed neighbourhood February 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Muzaffar Salman

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will continue deliveries of arms to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his armed forces, the head of the state weapons exporter said on Wednesday, despite the Middle Eastern country's civil war.

Russia supplied nearly $1 billion's worth of arms to Syria in 2011 and has long been an ally of Assad.

"We are continuing to carry out our obligations on contracts for the delivery of military hardware," Rosoboronexport director Anatoly Isaikin told a news conference.

Two ships carried arms in January to Syria's Tartous port, where Russia has a repair and maintenance facility, following naval training exercises in the Mediterranean, Itar-Tass reported earlier this month.

Isaikin said Russia's deliveries included anti-missile air defence systems but not attack weapons such as planes or helicopters. The exports did not contravene international law or U.N. Security Council resolutions, he said.

Moscow has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Assad. It says his departure must not be a precondition for negotiations to settle the almost two-year-old conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people.

At the conference, Rosoboronexport announced a new $12.9 billion record for 2012 arms exports.

Isaikin said a 2011 contract for 36 Yak-130 fighter jets had not been cancelled but that "not a single" plane had been delivered to Syria. He did not explain why Rosoboronexport had not made the deliveries.

A source close to Rosoboronexport said Russia's Foreign Ministry was looking at various scenarios on what to do with the contracts if Assad fell.

Separately Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of a parliamentary council on foreign relations said: "Assad will defend himself to the end ... As he did before, he controls the army and special forces."

Without giving figures for this year, Isaikin said Syria ranked 13 or 14 among Rosoboronexport's clients, far behind customers including India, Vietnam and China.

A report by Moscow-based defence think tank CAST said last year some $500 million of arms exports were estimated to have been delivered in 2012, though that figure included aircraft which Isaikin said had not been delivered.

Isaikin also denied his company recently sent repaired helicopters to Syria. Last year, a cargo ship bound for Syria off the British coast turned back to Russia after its insurer withdrew coverage for the vessel.

The ship Alaed was believed to have been carrying 12-15 repaired Mi-25 helicopters. (Reporting by Thomas Grove; editing by Andrew Roche)

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