Russia Resupplying Base in Syria, DOD Spokesman Says

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2012 — A Russ­ian car­go ship report­ed­ly car­ry­ing attack heli­copters to Syr­ia turned back today when its British insur­er can­celed cov­er­age, but a Defense Depart­ment spokesman said three oth­er Russ­ian ves­sels will car­ry sup­plies and pos­si­bly troops to the Russ­ian naval base at Tar­tus.

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Russ­ian mil­i­tary offi­cials have said the sup­plies are intend­ed for their own resup­ply and force pro­tec­tion, Pen­ta­gon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kir­by told reporters today.

Kir­by said defense offi­cials sup­port Russia’s deci­sion to stop the car­go ship’s voy­age. “We … don’t want to see the Assad regime get arms and ammu­ni­tion or any lethal sup­port that they could use,” he said.

In Jan­u­ary 2011, Syr­i­ans began protest­ing against the gov­ern­ment of Bashar Assad. The protests spread into a more gen­er­al upris­ing, which Unit­ed Nations Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon said in May had claimed some 10,000 lives. Rus­sia, a Syr­i­an ally, has threat­ened to veto any U.N. Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil sanc­tions against Syr­ia.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin issued a joint state­ment yes­ter­day call­ing for “mov­ing for­ward on [a] polit­i­cal tran­si­tion to a demo­c­ra­t­ic, plu­ral­is­tic polit­i­cal sys­tem” in Syr­ia.

Kir­by said polit­i­cal tran­si­tion is “the right way for­ward.”

“I think we can all agree that that’s the right answer for Syr­ia and for the Syr­i­an peo­ple,” he added.

Inter­na­tion­al diplo­mat­ic and eco­nom­ic pres­sure “needs to con­tin­ue to be applied to the Assad regime so that they will step down and do what’s right for their own peo­ple,” the spokesman added.

Kir­by not­ed U.S. defense offi­cials have repeat­ed­ly said pro­vid­ing lethal mil­i­tary aid to Assad’s forces is “intol­er­a­ble and unac­cept­able.”

“We’ve been very clear with the entire inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, not just the Rus­sians, about what our con­cerns are with respect to lethal aid and assis­tance going to the Assad regime,” he added.

Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary George Lit­tle, who also spoke dur­ing today’s brief­ing, said any dis­agree­ment over Syr­ia between Rus­sia and the Unit­ed States has­n’t affect­ed the north­ern dis­tri­b­u­tion net­work. The net­work, which Rus­sia sup­ports, has been the only means of ground trans­port for NATO sup­plies head­ed into Afghanistan since Pak­istan closed ground car­go routes to NATO forces in Novem­ber.

“It’s an extreme­ly com­pli­cat­ed but essen­tial net­work for our sup­plies in and out of Afghanistan,” Lit­tle said. “I have heard no indi­ca­tion that the Rus­sians are going to change their par­tic­i­pa­tion in that net­work and would reit­er­ate our thanks to the gov­ern­ment of Rus­sia for sup­port­ing it.”

“At the same time,” Kir­by said, “we’ve been very clear with them about our con­cerns about lethal sup­port to the Syr­i­an regime. It’s not like we haven’t been hon­est about what con­cerns us with these arms sales to Assad. We have been.”

Kir­by not­ed U.S. offi­cials are work­ing with the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty “as much and as aggres­sive­ly as we can to make sure that Assad does­n’t have at his dis­pos­al the means to kill his own peo­ple, or at least lim­it that abil­i­ty as much as we can.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)