The criticism by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was voiced as he commented on a draft resolution currently discussed at the UN Human Rights Council. The document sponsored by Qatar and Turkey seeks to condemn the Syrian government for the alleged use of mercenaries against rebel forces. The ‘mercenaries’ in question are from the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah, who are fighting in Syria.
“To my great astonishment we have learned that in addition to the sponsors of this draft resolution the US delegation is promoting most vigorously this very unhelpful idea. I asked [US State Secretary] John Kerry about it in Paris, and apparently he was not aware of this situation. He promised to handle it, but I don’t know whether he managed to do it,” Lavrov said.
He added that Russia currently sees no alternative to the peace conference, which would hopefully gather all interested parties, including the Syrian government, various Syrian opposition groups, regional powers like Iran and other. But doing it requires a genuine joint effort.
“We need everyone to work honestly and not allow double standards – backing the conference in statements and taking steps actually aimed at undermining this suggestion in practice,” Lavrov explained.
Lavrov also explained that the primary focus of Hezbollah fighters in Syria as stated by the leadership is the protection of the Shia population and holy sites from the threat posed by Sunni rebel forces. He said it indicates that the Syrian conflict is increasingly characterized by sectarian confrontation, a development which Russia has long warned against.
Russia and the US have diverged in their position over the end of EU’s embargo on delivery of arms to Syria this week, which may open the door for direct arming of rebel groups by European nations. Washington praised the development, saying it gives Europe more flexibility and ramps up pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Moscow sees it as not only counterproductive, but also potentially unlawful, since delivering arms to non-governmental actors against the wishes of a country’s government breaks international law. Such moves are forbidden both by UN-level treaties on arms trade and EU’s own guidelines.
Russia itself has standing military contracts with the Syrian government, which it intends to fulfill. Supporters of the rebels, including the US, have criticized Russia on several occasions over arming the Assad army. Moscow insists that the weapon systems it sold Syria cannot be used against the rebels.
For example the S-300 surface-to-air missiles are meant to shoot down aircraft and some ballistic missiles, neither of which the rebels have. Russia believes that its position helps stabilize the situation and restrain external parties, which would like to use force in Syria.