Moscow is supplying Damascus with weapons under existing contracts and for
defense against external aggression, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said
on Monday according to the Russian-language ITARTASS news
“Military cooperation [between Russia and Syria] is not something
that started today, and that military cooperation has always been conducted
completely legally, in fact, in an open manner. We have never delivered
anything to the incumbent president’s regime that would not comply with
international conventions,” ITAR TASS quoted Medvedev as saying.
said the weapons Russia provides to Syria are intended for “defense against
“We have contracts that we are obliged to fulfill,”
Medvedev said, adding that Russia is neutral and does not support the Assad
regime or Syria’s opposition forces.
Medvedev made his comments in an
interview with France’s Le Figaro newspaper ahead of a visit to Paris and
published by the Kremlin press service. His remarks echoed those of Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who told Egyptian daily Al- Ahram last month
that arms sent to Damascus were part of old Soviet contracts and did not violate
“We do not side with any faction in Syria’s internal
battle,” Lavrov told Al-Ahram.
However, Russia’s supplying weapons to
Bashar Assad’s regime has drawn Moscow into the escalating tensions between
Syria and its neighbor Turkey.
Last Thursday, Moscow criticized a Turkish
request to NATO to deploy Patriot missile air defense systems on its border with
Lavrov warned that “any militarization on the Turkish- Syrian
border may lead to an uncontrollable turn of events.”
came amid already heightened tensions between Moscow and Ankara over Syria,
after Turkish Air Force F-16 jets intercepted a Syrian Air civilian plane en
route from Moscow to Damascus last month.
The Turkish authorities forced
the plane to land in Ankara but later allowed it to continue after removing its
Turkey said the cargo had included munitions destined for the
Syrian Defense Ministry, as well as boxes containing parts for radar location
systems, which can have military applications, according to the Russian-language
Russia denied that the plane was carrying weapons, but
Kommersant reported that the cargo originated from a state-owned company, KBP
Tula, which exports munitions including antitank and antiaircraft missile
Last week, KBP’s deputy manager Vyacheslav Trukhachev was shot
dead in a contract-style killing in Tula. No group has claimed responsibility
for the assassination, but Syrian rebels have previously warned that Russia
could be targeted for retaliations for supplying weapons to
Following its interception of the Syrian plane in October, Turkey
banned Syrian aircraft from its airspace, the BBC reported.
In the wake
of the ban, Syrian Air altered its flight path for the Moscow-Damascus route,
flying south over Volgograd and passing over Azerbaijan and Iran to avoid
Turkey, Russia’s Kommersant reported.
The altered flight path via Iranian
airspace indicates that Tehran, Syria’s greatest regional ally, is helping Syria
bypass Turkish airspace to allow it to transport cargoes from Russia.
a report published Monday, US-based investigative journalism project ProPublica
said they had obtained Syrian ministry cables and flight documents showing that
Russia had sent 240 tons of banknotes to Syria this year in flights that passed
through Iranian airspace.
The documents, released by ProPublica and read
by The Jerusalem Post, consist of eight cables in Arabic sent by Syria’s Foreign
Ministry to the Syrian Embassy in Tehran between July 9 and September 15,
requesting local staff to ask the Iranian authorities’ permission for Syrian air
flights to traverse Iranian airspace for round-trip flights from Damascus to
The flight route shown on the documents passes over Syria, Iraq,
Iran and Azerbaijan before entering Russian airspace. Syrian Air passenger
flights from Damascus to Moscow normally pass over Turkey. By passing over Iran,
the Syrian cargo flights would avoid entering Turkish airspace.
to each of the ministry cables are manifests in Persian and English detailing
the flights, which are all listed as round-trip civil flights on Syrian Air
Ilyushin Il-76 cargo planes. Each flight aimed to collect 30 tons of banknotes
from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport and transport them back to Damascus.
and Russian officials did not respond to questions about the authenticity and
accuracy of the flight records and it is not possible to know whether the logs
accurately described the cargo, ProPublica said.
However, ProPublica said
they had confirmed that nearly all the flights took place through international
plane tracking services, photos by aviation enthusiasts and air traffic control
While ProPublica’s documents do not specify any details about
the denomination of the banknotes picked up in Moscow, Russia does not hide the
fact that it has recently started to print currency for Syria.
Austrian company, Oesterreichische Banknotenund Sicherheitsdruck, used to print
Syria’s banknotes but pulled out of the country due to international
In June, Russia’s InterFax news agency reported that Syria had
asked Russia’s state-owned enterprise Goznak company, which operates Russia’s
mint and which also prints currency for foreign states, to print new
Reuters also reported that Syria was using the banknotes to
ensure that over 2 million state employees’ salaries and other government
expenses were being paid, though Syria’s central bank later denied that it had
circulated new currency printed in Russia.
Goznak’s general director
Arkady V. Trachuk confirmed in an interview with the Russian-language Rossiskaya
Gazetan (RG) this week that his organization had fulfilled an contract to print
Syrian banknotes.“A few years ago, Syria ordered its banknotes printed in
Austria. But because of the EU sanctions, that [Austrian] company turned down
the contract. So Syria turned to us,” Trachuk told RG.
Trachuk did not
specify when the banknotes had been printed or when they had been transported to
Russia’s national airline, Aeroflot, suspended its flights on the
Damascus-Moscow route in August, so it would not be an option for Goznak to have
transported any consignment of banknotes it printed for Syria using that carrier
after that date.
A query by the Post to Goznak asking whether Syrian Air
is involved in transporting consignments of banknotes to Damascus was not
answered by press time.