Russia is not supplying arms to Syria which can be used against protesters, Russian President Vladmir Putin said on Friday.
“As for arms supplies, Russia is not supplying arms that could be used in civil conflicts,” Putin said during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Friday.
Representatives of the Human Rights First, a U.S.-based advocacy group, told UN journalists on Thursday that a Russian ship allegedly carrying weapons had docked at the Syrian port of Tartus, which hosts a Russian naval base, on the weekend.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice lashed out at Russia over its arms supplies to Syria in response to the report, saying the issue was “of the utmost concern.”
“It is not technically obviously a violation of international law since there’s not an arms embargo,” she said. “But it’s reprehensible that arms would continue to flow to a regime that is using such horrific and disproportionate force against its own people.”
Syria is one of Russia’s major weapons clients, and Moscow has opposed a proposal for a UN arms embargo on Damascus.
Russia has supplied Syria with Bastion coastal missile systems with Yakhont cruise missiles and Buk surface-to-air missile systems under a contract signed in 2007.
According to UN estimates, about 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since the beginning of a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011, which started with peaceful protests but has since grown increasingly militarized.
Russia and China have twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions condemning the Syrian government over the violence, citing a pro-rebel bias. The Syrian authorities insist they are fighting “armed terrorist gangs” affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Western powers have accused Russia of its reluctance to support a tougher UN action against the Syrian regime, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying on Thursday that Russia’s stance is “propping up” the Assad regime and contributing to a “civil war” in Syria.
Moscow insists that the Syrian crisis can only be resolved through political dialogue, and has urged Syria’s conflicting parties to stick to a peace plane brokered by the joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Putin reiterated on Friday Russia was ready to continue dialogue with its Western and Arab partners, as well as with the Syrian government, on how to resolve the conflict.
He said he believed it was “possible” to reach a political solution to the crisis, although this would require “professionalism and patience.”