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´Post´ Exclusive: Putin says he would only sell ´defensive´ missiles to Syria (JERUSALEM POST) By DAVID HOROVITZ KRAKOW, POLAND 01/27/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106796048843 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Thursday, refused to rule out his country´s sale of anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, insisting that such missiles served defensive purposes only and would not affect the balance of forces in the region.

Putin was speaking to The Post through a translator at a luncheon in Krakow hosted by the Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski.

He was asked first about the direct link he had drawn between Nazism and modern terrorism in a speech he delivered earlier in the day. Questioned as to whether he regarded modern terrorism as a threat to humankind, Putin replied: "Definitely. That has been our direct experience. Those extremists who represent international terrorism in our territory in the northern Caucauses, what they want is to establish a global caliphate. This resembles the Nazis´ aspiration to global leadership. The same can be said, by the way, of the Communist revolution."

The Post then put it to Putin that Israel was extremely concerned by terrorism, and had specific anxieties regarding planned Russian missile sales to Syria, a state notorious for its support of terror groups. Putin responded at length.

"First of all," he said, "we understand and are committed to maintaining the balance of forces in the region. We understand our responsibilities. We have not taken a single step to violate that balance and we will follow that pattern in the future."

Waiting patiently while his translator rendered this into English, Putin then continued, "Second of all, we won´t bring to the region weapons that can be used by terrorists or that can be transferred to terrorists without controls."

The Russian President then repeated, "We have and will always act according to our international obligations."

In that light, he went on, the contemplated missile sale to Syria would not constitute a violation of responsibility because, he asserted, these were purely defensive missiles.

"While we´re talking about supplies of weapons to countries in the region," he said, "such a supply should be understood in the light of supporting defensive capacities, as in Syria." Putin added that he was discussing the planned sale along with all other issues, "with all participants" in what he called "the Middle East settlement, including frankly and openly with our Israeli partners."

Indeed, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon talked with Putin only last week. And it is understood that Russia´s planned missile sale to Syria are currently on hold – neither definitively on, nor definitively off, according to Israeli sources.

"Our actions, I say again," Putin then reiterated, "have never violated and will never violate the balance of power in the region."

The Post then pointed out to the Russian President that at the moment, that balance finds Israel with a vital military advantage. Putin´s response: "Definitely, today, Israel has all the powers compared to its neighbors."

The Post would have liked to clarify that rather equivocal response but Putin indicated that the interview was now over.

Israel, and the US for that matter, have been particularly concerned by Russian plans to sell FA-18 anti-aircraft missiles, launched from the back of a vehicle, to Damascus. According to Israeli sources, the FA-18 may indeed be described as defensive missiles but Israel´s concern is that from Damascus they will find their way to Hizbullah and then to the West Bank, and come to constitute a threat to civilian airliners landing at and taking off from Ben Gurion International Airport.

The United States´ concern is that the missiles, in a deal valued in the tens of millions of dollars, might find their way to insurgents in Iraq. There is also concern over other types of anti-aircraft missiles whose sale to Syria Russia may also be contemplating, in still larger deals estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Despite the American pressure and the Israeli concern, Putin has plainly not definitively ruled out any of these planned sales. At the same time however, it is believed that Putin chose not to finalize any such deals in the course of Syrian President Bashar al Assad´s visit to Russia this week. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/27/05)

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