By Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Timothy Heritage, Reuters
(Reuters) – Russia is supplying weapons to Damascus under contracts completed since the conflict in Syria began in 2011, as well as under earlier deals, President Bashar al-Assad said.
Assad’s comments, in an interview published by Russian government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta on Monday, appeared to contradict remarks by Moscow suggesting any Russian arms supplies to Damascus were agreed before the conflict began.
“There are contracts that had been sealed before the crisis started and were carried out during the crisis. There are other agreements on arms supplies and cooperation that were signed during the crisis and are being carried out now,” Assad said.
“They went through some changes to take into account the type of fighting the Syrian army carries out against the terrorists,” he said in the full text of the interviews, excerpts of which were published last week.
Assad gave no details of the weapons being supplied by Russia, the world’s second-biggest arms exporter, since the start of the conflict which has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.
Russia’s Defense Ministry, contacted by telephone, declined immediate comment.
Russia is a longstanding ally of Assad and is hosting meetings in Moscow on April 6-9 involving some of the more moderate Syrian opposition representatives and Damascus envoys.
Expectations of a breakthrough are low after a first round of consultations made little progress. Many Syrian opposition figures shunned the January consultations, saying they would appear only at meetings that led to Assad’s removal from power.