Syria army stockpiling Russian arms, report says

Syria imported nearly six times more weapons in 2007-2011 than in the previous five-year period, with Russia accounting for 72 per cent of the arms supplies to President Bashar al-Assad's regime, an international research institute says.

Purchases grew six-fold in 5 years, institute says

Members of Syrian security chant slogans and raise their weapons. The fighters support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime has stepped up arms imports in recent years, according to a new report. (Muzaffar Salman/Associated Press)

Syria imported nearly six times more weapons in 2007-2011 than in the previous five-year period, with Russia accounting for 72 per cent of the arms supplies to President Bashar Assad's regime, an international research institute reported Monday.

The report on global arms transfers by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute highlighted how Moscow continues to provide Syria with weapons even as the U.S., the European Union and others impose arms embargoes due to the regime's violent crackdown on protesters.

It did not specify the volume of weapons exports after the start of the uprising in 2011.

Major Russian arms deliveries to Syria in 2007-2011 included air defence systems and anti-ship missiles, which have no direct use in the current unrest in the Arab state. But they have upgraded the regime's capability to defend against outside intervention, SIPRI researcher Pieter Wezeman said.

"They increase the risks involved in and therefore the threshold for foreign military intervention like the NATO operation against the Gadhafi regime" in Libya, Wezeman said

Syria has outstanding orders for 25 Russian MIG-29 combat aircraft, and in late 2011 Russia signed a $550-million US deal for 36 Yak-130 light combat aircraft, he said, adding that questions remain about the timing of the deliveries and Syria's ability to pay.

Syria has dramatically increased its arms purchases in the past five years, including 36 Russian Yak-130 combat jets. (Misha Japaridze/Associated Press/file)

"However, when delivered the combat aircraft would augment the Syrian military's capabilities to attack rebel positions if the conflict develops in a similar way as the conflict in e.g. Libya developed," Wezeman said in an email to The Associated Press.

The UN estimates that Assad's crackdown on the year-long uprising against his regime has killed more than 8,000 people so far.

Syria's weapons imports rose 580 per cent from the 2002-2006 period, lifting the country to No. 33 in the rankings of the world's arms importers from No. 68, SIPRI said. Nineteen per cent of Syria's arms imports came from Belarus and nine per cent from Iran, the report said.

Weapons sales rise

Globally, the report showed conventional weapons transfers jumped 24 per cent in 2007-2011, with the United States remaining the No. 1 weapons exporter, followed by Russia, Germany, France and Britain.

India, South Korea, Pakistan, China and Singapore were the five largest recipients of arms.

The Arab Spring had only a limited effect on global arms sales in 2011, even though it "provoked public and parliamentary debate in a number of supplier states," SIPRI said. It noted that Saudi Arabia's order last year of 154 F-15 combat aircraft from the U.S. was the largest arms deal in two decades.

The institute has developed its own indicator values to measure volumes of arms transfers. Its database includes major conventional weapons such as aircraft, armoured vehicles, artillery, sensors, missiles, ships and air defence systems. Trucks, small arms, ammunition and most light weapons are not included.

Russia backs Red Cross call to halt fighting

Russia said Monday that Syria's government and rebels should halt their fighting once a day to give the Red Cross access to the wounded and that jailed protesters should be allowed to have visitors.

The call from Russia came after its officials met with the International Committee of the Red Cross, which had urged Moscow to take such a stand.

Russia had previously backed the ICRC's call for a ceasefire, but Monday's statement from the foreign ministry was worded more strongly than the previous ones, in an apparent signal that Moscow is raising the pressure on Syria.

The statement followed Moscow's talks between ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov focusing on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it agrees with the ICRC about what is needed during Syria's uprising. ICRC spokeswoman Carla Haddad Mardini welcomed the ministry's comment, saying his organization "received positive indications of support on its operational priorities and on its call for a two-hour cessation in fighting on a daily basis."

The Red Cross has not received permission from Syria to access all parts of the country affected by the fighting. Damascus also has not agreed to daily ceasefires.