“The Russian Federation is supplying arms to legitimate authorities,” Ryabkov said. “This is not an abstract or idle argument about who these authorities are and why they have the right to receive armaments of this or that sort and the other side has no such rights.”
Moscow’s envoy to NATO, Alexander Grushko, told journalists that Russia will continue to honor its commitments to deliver S-300 missile systems to Damascus. “We will fulfill the signed contracts,” Grushko said. “Russia has been acting in total compliance with international law.”
‘Too little, too late’
Louay Safi, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition, described the E.U. decision as a “positive step.” But he added that arms needed to be sent immediately, citing the increasing threat to the rebels posed by the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran and has allied itself with Assad.
“We are afraid that this may be too little, too late,” Safi said in a telephone interview. “Syria is now being attacked by Hezbollah in Qusair and the suburbs of Damascus. If the Free Syrian Army is not given the heavy weapons it needs immediately, we think Syria will be lost to Iran and Hezbollah. The West will have to bear the results of that.”
The two-year-old conflict has morphed into a complex, multifaceted war that is increasingly destabilizing Syria’s neighbors. Three Lebanese soldiers were fatally shot in the border town of Aarsal on Tuesday, a day after two rockets struck a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Beirut, injuring four.
In Britain, the Conservative-led government of Prime Minister David Cameron is facing considerable domestic pressure to show restraint. Analysts said domestic opposition might impede any move by Britain to ship arms to the Syrian opposition, if and when London opts to do so.
“Many Conservative MPs are against us supplying arms to Syria once the embargo is lifted,” John Redwood, a member of Parliament and chairman of the Conservative Party’s Economic Affairs Committee, said in a statement on his Web site. “Our advice to the Foreign Secretary is simple — do not use this new U.K. authority.”
The opposition Labor Party echoed the concerns. “Syria is awash with arms, so to whom would weapons be supplied?” shadow foreign minister Douglas Alexander told the BBC early Tuesday. “How would the U.K. government prevent British-supplied weapons falling into the wrong hands?”
Valentina Soria, a security analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center in London, said Cameron’s government would need “at least a minimum of domestic political consensus” before acting to arm the rebels.
“And there are clearly some who are more reluctant to see the government act,” Soria said.
Still, Foreign Secretary William Hague hailed Monday’s decision as a significant step toward forcing Assad to more seriously negotiate an end to the conflict.
“This does not mean that we have made any decision as the United Kingdom to send arms to the National Coalition, but we now have the flexibility to respond in the future if the situation continues to deteriorate and if the Assad regime refuses to negotiate,” Hague said in a statement.
Loveday Morris in Beirut, Will Englund in Moscow and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.