Russia said Friday it is not making any new deliveries of attack helicopters to Syria and confirmed there were “previous planned repairs of (helicopters), which were delivered to Syria many years ago.”
“There are no new supplies of Russian-made attack helicopters to Syria,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that “previous planned repairs were carried out earlier on helicopters delivered to Syria many years ago.”
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday accused Russia of fuelling the violence by sending attack helicopters to Syria. Her spokeswoman said Thursday that Russia was sending back refurbished helicopters.
The claim had complicated the Obama administration’s larger goals for Syria and U.S.-Russia relations before a key meeting of the nations’ two leaders.
In answering a question at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, Clinton omitted the detail that the helicopters were not new when she said the U.S. was “concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland insisted that the nuance meant little, even as she refused to explain why the department didn’t divulge the information earlier.
“Whether they are new or they are refurbished, the concern remains that they will be used for the exact same purpose that the current helicopters in Syria are being used, and that is to kill civilians,” Nuland told reporters. “These are helicopters that have been out of the fight for some six months or longer. They are freshly refurbished. The question is simply what one expects them to be used for when one sees what the current fleet is doing.”
“When you look at the Soviet- and Russian-made helicopters that are in use in Syria today, every helicopter that is flying and working is attacking a new civilian location,” she added. “So the concern is when you add three more freshly refurbished helicopters to the fight, that is three more that can be used to kill civilians.”
With opposition groups estimating that 13,000 people have died, the impasse over Syria will likely be a main topic of President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting next week. It is the two leaders’ first face-to-face since Putin’s return to the presidency last month, and the Russian leader is likely to use the session to set out complaints about U.S. foreign policy in several areas.
On Syria, the administration is hoping to persuade Russia to change its position.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday that major world powers could hold a conference on Syria on June 30 in Geneva.
“There is a possibility, I don’t know if we’ll get there, but there is a possibility of holding a conference in Geneva on June 30,” Fabius told France Inter radio. Participants would include countries on the U.N. Security Council but the meeting would be held “without the constraints of the Security Council,” he added.