Russia sends advanced missiles to Syria while planning peace conference

Foreign Policy MidEast Daily – 17.5.2013 – Russia has sent advanced antiship cruise missilesto Syria, according to anonymous U.S. officials. The Yakhonts, which have an advanced radar, underscore the continued support of Russia for the Syrian regime, giving the government the capacity to stave off international efforts to reinforce the Syrian opposition by sea.

The shipment comes as the United States and Russia are planning an international conference aimed at bringing together the Syrian government and opposition. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he had brought up U.S. concerns over Russian arms supplies to Syria during his recent visit.

He said, “I think we’ve made it crystal clear we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance.” On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “We have not hidden thatwe supply weapons to Syria under signed contracts, without violating any international agreements, or our own legislation.” Russia has increased its presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, sending about a dozen warships near its naval base in Syria’s port city of Tartus. According to a senior U.S. defense official, “It is a show of force.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Russian leaders on Friday to discuss the crisis in Syria. Ban, alongside Lavrov, said that a peace conference “should be held as soon as possible.” Lavrov said that Syrian delegations have not yet been decided so an official date for the conference has not been set; however the meeting is expected to take place in Geneva during the first half of June. Syrian’s main opposition group is expected to decide next week on whether it will participate in the conference, and Russia’s push for Iran to be included in the meeting could add further complications. Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met in Washington with U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday. The two leaders differed on many points on how to deal with the Syrian crisis, but agreed that President Bashar al-Assad must leave power. Erdogan is looking for international action on Syria, at least with the implementation of a no-fly zone, while Obama, reluctant to involve the United States in another war, ruled out unilateral U.S. military action.