* Could signal Moscow move away from Syria's Assad
* Russia will not deliver fighter planes
* White House says move positive if confirmed
(Adds White House comment)
By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW, July 9 Russia will not deliver fighter
planes or other new weapons to Syria while the situation there
remains unresolved, the deputy director of a body that
supervises Moscow's arms trade was quoted as saying on Monday.
"While the situation in Syria is unstable, there will be no
new deliveries of arms there," Vyacheslav Dzirkaln told
journalists at the Farnborough Airshow in Britain, Russia's
Interfax news agency reported.
The refusal to send more arms to Syria could signal the
strongest move yet by Moscow to distance itself from Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad, whom it has defended in the U.N.
Security Council from harsher sanctions.
It could also scuttle up to $4 billion of outstanding
contracts, including fighter jets and air-defence systems that
were expected to be delivered this year.
A spokesman for Dzirkaln's Federal Service for Military
Technical Co-operation would not confirm the deputy director's
comments when contacted by telephone. Reuters was awaiting for a
response to requested written questions.
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Erin Pelton said it
would be a positive development if confirmed.
"We refer you to Russian authorities for confirmation," she
said. "If it is truly Russia's intention to halt arms sales to
Syria, then we would laud this step and commend Russia for this
measure, which would send a strong signal to the Assad regime."
"We have long called on all nations to cease supplying this
regime with weapons, given its continued use against the Syrian
Although legal, Russia's arms trade with Syria has fueled
concerns that Moscow is supplying Assad with weapons being used
against protesters taking part in an armed uprising against him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the arms Moscow
delivers cannot be used in civil conflicts and Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov has said the supplies are defensive weapons sold
in contracts signed long ago.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has termed Russian
statements that the weapons are unrelated to the violence in
Syria "patently untrue" and Washington has called the delivery
of a shipment of heavy Russian weapons "reprehensible".
Dzirkaln was quoted as saying that Russia, one of Syria's
main weapons suppliers, would not be delivering a shipment of 36
Yak-130 fighter planes, a contract for which was reportedly
signed at the end of last year.
"In the current situation, talking about deliveries of
airplanes to Syria is premature," he said.
Rosoboronexport, Russia's monopoly arms exporter, would not
comment on Dzirkaln's remarks, which were also reported by the
Russian state news agency RIA.
"We understand the position of (the agency), but we are a
separate organisation and will not comment," said spokesman
Syria's arms-trade ties with Moscow date back to the Soviet
era. It has previously signed contracts worth billions of
dollars and hosts a Mediterranean supply-and-repair facility
that is Russia's only naval base outside the former Soviet
A Russian analyst said Moscow had already distanced itself
"Russia has stopped signing new contracts with Syria and is
delaying the shipments of already signed contracts," said Ruslan
Aliyev, an expert on the Russian-Syria arms trade at the
Moscow-based defence think-tank, CAST.
"It's basically a political decision based on Moscow's view
Russia faced Western criticism last month after Clinton said
Russian attack helicopters were on the way to Syria. Moscow
said they were part of an old contract and that it only provided
weaponry that could be used against external aggression.
"Previously, we were fulfilling old contracts, including
repairs of the machines," Dzirkaln said. "Until the situation
stabilises, we will not carry out any new arms deliveries."
(Additional reporting By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya in Moscow and
Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing
by Pravin Char and David Brunnstrom)