The Syria question continues to dominate both domestic American politics and international affairs. The biggest opponent to U.S. involvement is Vladimir Putin and Russia. But while the Kremlin calls for diplomatic and political methods for peace in Syria, it continues to be the biggest seller of weapons, vehicles, and munitions to Assad's government.
Prior to the start of the civil war, Russia accounted for 50% of all Syrian arms imports. The Russian government did halt weapons sales in the beginning of the conflict but resumed earlier this year when relations between the Kremlin and Washington turned sour. Since then, according to Reuters, over 9 trips have been made between Damascus and the Ukrainian port of Oktyabrsk, which is the main port utilized by the Russian state arms company, Rosoboronexport. The ships shut down their radar systems while leaving the port, indicating that Russia desired to keep the shipments secret. The ships most likely contained small arms and more anti-tank Kornet missile launchers and missiles, a system that Russia has fulfilled 6 or 7 contracts for since 1998.
Many countries, including the United States, have supplied weapons to one side or the other in the Syrian conflict. What makes the Russian case so damning is that first of all, the government is profiting from shipping weapons to a regime believed to have used chemical weapons against their own people. Secondly, Russia is the biggest opponent of military action and biggest proponent of a negotiated settlement but still continues to arm one side. Russia would have much firmer ground to stand on if it had continued to halt arms shipments like it did at the beginning of the war. The continued sales of weapons brings Russia's motives into question, does the Kremlin actually want peace in Syria? Or does Putin actually want to just keep opposing and shutting down U.S. interests in the region? If Putin does decide to halt weapons sales to Assad, Russia's call for alternatives to military action would be seen in a much better light.
Should the UN pass the Arms Trade Treaty this practice of selling weapons to questionable regimes will be unveiled and forced into the international limelight. Countries such as Russia would be forced to make a decision; either give up the trade and fully commit to finding a peaceful solution, or keep selling weapons and face international pressure and consequences. The Arms Trade Treaty would prohibit countries from selling arms and weapons systems to other states if the state "has knowledge at the time of authorization that the arms or items would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, attacks directed against civilians protected as such, or other war crimes." Because Syria has attacked civilians with conventional and chemical weapons, Russia would not able to claim it can legally sell weapons to Syria.
We are currently pressuring the Obama Administration to sign the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations General Assembly on September 24th. Send an email to President Obama urging him to sign the Arms Trade Treaty.