Vladimir Putin warns the West against arming Syrian ‘cannibals’

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) with British Prime Minister David Cameron outside No.10 Downing Street yesterday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) with British Prime Minister David Cameron outside No.10 Downing Street yesterday.

The G8 Summit which brings together leaders of the eight most industrialised countries of the world, is set to be dominated by disagreement over the U.S. decision to send weapons to Syria’s rebels. In Syria, rebels fought back on Sunday against forces of President al-Assad and his Lebanese Hezbollah allies near Aleppo, where Assad has announced a campaign to recapture the rebel-held north after seizing a strategic town this month. After months of deliberations, Washington decided last week to send weapons to the rebels, declaring that Assad’s forces had crossed a “red line” by using nerve gas. The move throws the superpower’s weight behind the revolt and signals a potential turning point in global involvement in a two-year-old war that has already killed at least 93,000 people.

It has also infuriated Russia, Cold War-era ally of Syria, which has sold arms to Assad and used its veto at the U.N. Security Council to block resolutions against him. Russia has dismissed the U.S. evidence that Assad’s forces used nerve gas. The White House says President Barack Obama will try to lobby Putin to drop his support for Assad during this week’s G8 summit. Under its new posture, Washington has also said it will keep warplanes and Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Jordan, an ally whose territory it can use to help arm and train rebel fighters. Washington has 4,500 troops in Jordan carrying out exercises. Washington has not ruled out imposing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, perhaps near the Jordanian border, although it has taken no decision yet to do so.

Jordan’s King Abdullah rallied his own armed forces on Sunday, telling military cadets: “If the world does not help as it should, and if the matter becomes a danger to our country, we are able at any moment to take the measures to protect the country and the interests of our people.” Washington hopes its backing will restore rebel momentum after Assad’s forces seized the initiative by gaining the open support of Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia, which sent thousands of seasoned fighters to aid Assad.

Just a few months ago, Western countries believed Assad’s days were numbered. But with Hezbollah’s support he was able to achieve a major victory this month in Qusair, a strategically located rebel-held town on a main route from Lebanon. Since then, the government has announced major plans to seize the north, including Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city and commercial centre, largely rebel-held for nearly a year. The United Nations says it fears for a bloodbath in the north.

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