Syria supports Russian operations in Caucasus

August 21st, 2008 - 10:43 pm ICT by IANS  

Sochi (Russia), Aug 21 (DPA) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Thursday and expressed support for Moscow in the Caucasus, amid mounting Western criticism of Moscow’s military push and continued occupation of Georgian territory.In a meeting in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi on the second day of his visit, the Syrian president said, “We understand the essence of the Russian position and its military response. We believe Russia was responding to the Georgian provocation.”

The Syrian leader likened the conflict in the Caucasus to the Mid East conflict, and noted that Russia supported the start of a dialogue with Israel.

International criticism has mounted with each new day that Moscow delays pulling its troops out of Georgian territory in accordance with a ceasefire that ended the 10-day conflict.

Syria “appreciates the Russian leadership’s brave decision to begin a withdrawal of troops from region … we are against any attempts to slander Russia or misrepresent its position,” the Syrian president added.

Ahead of his two-day visit, Assad was bullish on expanding military ties, suggesting such an alliance could serve to counter balance Moscow current diplomatic isolation.

“Arms purchases are a priority,” Assad said in an interview published in Kommersant daily on the eve of his trip, adding that Israel and the West’s joint pressure on Russia made this necessary.

Syria, a close ally of Iran and foe of the United States, has lashed out at Israel for fielding military consultants and supplying weapons to Georgia in the run-up to the war in South Ossetia.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni Thursday defended arms sales to Georgia, saying all exports to the Caucasus country had been checked by the Ministry of Defence.

She was speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem to warn Moscow off accepting Syria’s offer it deploy missiles on its territory, saying such a move could destabilize the Middle East.

“The deployment of long-range missiles is wrong,” Livi told journalists Thursday.

She was reacting to reports that Russia could possibly supply Syria with two types of missiles - S-300 surface-to-air missiles and Iskander E-ballistic missiles, which have a range of of 280 km and can carry a a 480-kg warhead.

Syria, label a “rogue” state by Washington, said the offer could help Russia develop adequate military response to what it sees as the threat of a planned US missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Washington says such a system is not directed at Russia, but to protect against “rogue” states, like Iran.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was ready to consider Syria’s offer, but that stability in the middle east would take precedent.

“We are ready to consider Syria’s request to purchase new weapons,” Lavrov told journalist in Sochi, but added, “We will deliver arms which have defensive character and do not upset the balance of power in the region.”

Moscow has come under severe criticism from the United States and Israel for reinvigorating Soviet-era weapons trade with Syria, a close ally of Iran.

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