MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that only the U.N. Security Council could restrict Russian weapons sales abroad, a remark that appeared aimed at defending the Kremlin against criticism of its arms supplies to the Syrian government.
"Only sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council can serve as a basis for limiting weapons supplies," Putin said, according to state-run Itar-Tass news agency.
"In all other cases, nobody can use any pretext to dictate to Russia on how it should trade and with whom," he was quoted as telling a meeting of a state commission on the arms trade.
The West has criticized Russia for vetoing, along with China, three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end a conflict that has killed an estimated 30,000 people in 19 months.
Russia sold Syria $1 billion worth of weapons last year and has made clear it would oppose an arms embargo in the Security Council because of what it says are concerns rebels fighting Assad's government would get weapons illegally anyway.
Putin said in June that Russia was not delivering any weapons to Syria that could be used in a civil conflict.
Turkey said on October 11 that a Syrian passenger plane grounded en route from Moscow to Damascus was carrying weapons. Moscow said the cargo included radar parts that were of dual civilian and military use but were fully legal.
Moscow in 2010 scrapped plans to deliver high-precision air defense missile systems to Iran, citing sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council over Tehran's nuclear program, a move welcomed by the United States and its European allies.
Russia denies trying to prop up Assad, who allows Russia to maintain a naval supply facility in the port of Tartus that is its only military base outside the former Soviet Union.
But Moscow says Syria's crisis must be resolved without foreign interference, particularly military intervention.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Jon Boyle)