Moscow and Brussels’ differing approaches to the Syria conflict have remained apparent at the Russia-EU summit. However, officials tried to play down some of the differences that persisted during the talks.
President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia had not yet fulfilled its contract with Damascus to send S-300 air defense missile systems to Syria.
Speaking at the conclusion of the two day Russia-EU summit in the city of Yekaterinburg, Putin said he had been wary about sending the weapons and upsetting the regional balance of power.
“It’s perhaps the best such weapon in the world,” Putin said at a news conference. “It’s indeed a serious weapon. “We don’t want to throw the region off balance. We have had contracts for these weapons for years, but so far we haven’t fulfilled the deals,” Putin said.
Both the US and Israel have warned Russia against delivering the sophisticated missiles, which have a range of up 200 kilometers (125 miles) which would significantly increase Syria’s air defense capabilities.
Israel has carried out a number of airstrikes in Syria over recent months, which are thought to have destroyed weapons shipments on their way to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
Russia wary of rebel elements
Putin criticized the EU decision to lift its weapons embargo for the Syrian rebels, saying that Moscow was “disappointed.” He also stressed that Russia was wary of elements of the Syrian opposition that might appear at the talks, recalling a recent online video that showed a rebel leader taking a bite from the heart of a fallen government soldier.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy tried to strike a conciliatory tone in the post-summit press conference, saying that the bloc welcomed a Russian-US initiative for peace talks to be held in Geneva. “We are giving our full support to this very important political peace process,” he said.
Putin, for his part, said that support for the conference was a unifying factor in Russia and the EU’s policy towards Syria.
However, the only tangible outcome of the summit was an unrelated agreement to increase cooperation to prevent trafficking of substances used to make illegal drugs.
Trouble over visa deal
Separately, on a proposed visa agreement between the EU and Russia, European Commission President Manuel Barroso – who was also at the summit – said that Brussels was ready to finalize negotiations with Moscow provided there was no negative effect on EU citizens or transport operators.
A total of 47 EU lawmakers meanwhile signed an open letter saying they strongly objected to the inclusion in the agreement of visa-free travel for Russian government officials “involved in gross human rights abuses.”
The delegates threatened to block any visa agreement in the European Parliament, if the EU does not impose sanctions on the Russian officials.
rc/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)