MOSCOW, February 15 (RIA Novosti) – There are no Russian troops in Syria apart from several dozen technical staff at the Tartus naval support facility, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday in an interview with German TV channel ARD.
“It is not a military base but a ship maintenance and servicing point. It is not big enough to be called a military base,” he said.
Lavrov reiterated Russia’s official position that it is not carrying out fresh arms deliveries to the Syrian government.
“We have only completed the implementation of contracts for the delivery of air-defense systems to the Syrian government, which have already been paid for,” he said.
“The military equipment that we have delivered to Syria is designed to protect Syria against outside aggression,” Lavrov said, stressing it cannot be used in the course of the current civil conflict.
Russia’s state-run arms dealer Rosoboronexport said on Wednesday it is supplying air-defense missile systems and maintenance and servicing equipment to Syria, but not combat aircraft.
Russia and Syria have previously signed a contract for delivery to Damascus of Yak-130 Mitten advanced jet trainers, but it has been suspended, the company’s director Anatoly Isaikin said. The company still has some other outstanding contracts with Syria, he said, but did not provide any details, citing commercial confidentiality.
Russia and the United States were involved in a diplomatic war of words last year over Moscow’s arms sales to Syria, after Washington accused Russia of supplying attack helicopters to the al-Assad regime. Moscow denied those accusations, claiming it was merely returning equipment overhauled as part of long-standing contracts with Syria.
Navy chief Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov said in July Russia will keep its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus as it needs maintenance and technical support for Russian warships during anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden.
Russia has repeatedly denied media reports that it was sending warships to Syria and delivering weapons to Damascus.