Report: Syria’s arms surge largely due to Russia

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(AP) STOCKHOLM – Syria imported nearly six times more weapons in 2007-2011 than in the previous five-year period, with Russia accounting for 72 percent of the arms supplies to President Bashar Assad’s regime, an international research institute said 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 defense 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 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 for them.

“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 U.N. estimates that Assad’s crackdown on the uprising against his regime that began a year ago has killed more than 8,000 people so far.

Syria’s weapons imports rose 580 percent from the 2002-2006 period, lifting the country from No. 68 to 33 in the rankings of the world’s arms importers, SIPRI said. Nineteen percent of Syria’s arms imports came from Belarus and 9 percent from Iran, the report said.

Globally, the report showed conventional weapons transfers jumped 24 percent in 2007-2011, with the U.S. 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, armored vehicles, artillery, sensors, missiles, ships and air defense systems. Trucks, small arms, ammunition and most light weapons are not included.