Russia is supplying the Syrian government with attack helicopters which could lead to a dangerous escalation of the conflict within the country, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned.
The violence within Syria, which began as the government fired on protesters during 2011's Arab Spring movement, has left upwards of 10,000 civilians dead and resulted in several alleged massacres in recent weeks. United Nations observers attempting to verify the massacres have been turned back by gunfire.
Earlier this week, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov insisted that the continued Russian weapons shipments to the country were only honouring existing contracts for air defences, but Clinton said that the US was concerned the shipments could lead to a significant escalation of the conflict.
"We have confronted the Russians about stopping their continued arms shipments to Syria," said Clinton. "They have from time to time said that we shouldn't worry; everything they're shipping is unrelated to their actions internally. That's patently untrue and we are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters from Russia to Syria. That will escalate the conflict quite dramatically."
Clinton also warned that troops massing in Aleppo, near Syria's northern border with Turkey, could spark a wider conflict. "There seems to be a massing of Syrian forces around Aleppo that we've gotten information about over the last 24/48 hours," she said. "That could very well be a red line for the Turks in terms of their strategic and national interest, so we're watching this very carefully."
Clinton's warnings come on the day Herve Ladsous, head of peacekeeping at the United Nations, said the violence between the military, pro-government militias and the rebel Free Syrian Army could be described as a civil war. "Yes, I think we can say that," Ladsous told reporters. "Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory, several cities, to the opposition, and wants to retake control."
Speaking in the European Parliament yesterday, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton described the violence in Syria as "sickening". She added: "We are at a critical moment. The situation is deteriorating day by day as the regime's behaviour reinforces the most radical elements on all sides.
"And yet, most ordinary Syrians long for a transition that avoids bloodshed and keeps the country together – respecting minorities. If the descent into further militarization continues, it will not only spell disaster for the people of Syria, but also the broader region."This article was first published by PublicServiceEurope.com's sister site defencemanagement.com Russia 'supplying attack helicopters to Syria'