Russia, the host of next year’s Winter Olympics, celebrated the one-year countdown to the opening of the games this month by unveiling a 20foot tall countdown clock near Red Square. Perhaps a similar display should be unveiled to remind Russia of the rising death tolls in Syria, now estimated to have reached 70,000.
Despite the rising death toll, the head of Russia’s state-owned arms company, Rosoboronexport, announced that it would continue to supply weapons to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime, an announcement whose timing was unfortunate to say the least and hardly in the Olympic spirit.
Anatoly Isaikin, the director of Rosoboronexport, said that his company is not violating any UN sanctions and has only delivered defensive weapons. However, last summer, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned about repaired attack helicopters being sent from Russia to Syria and in maintaining current contracts Now, Russia will continue to supply repair parts for helicopter gunships which have been used to attack civilians. Finnish customs inspectors have reported finding spare parts for tanks in a Russian shipping vessel on its way to Syria. Rosoboronexport denied links to any such cargo and no official documents were found, suggesting this was an illegal smuggling operation.
It is also worth noting that a main reason there are no UN sanctions is because Russia has vetoed three attempts at UN Security Council resolutions taking stronger action against Syria. The United States has been vocal about Russia’s unhelpful role in supporting Assad’s regime, but its criticism has been complicated by ongoing contracts with Rosoboronexport. Recently, Congress acted to ban further U.S. contracts with the Russian state-owned arms company, but previous contracts continue, including a delivery of Russian helicopters to Afghanistan.
Ultimately, responsibility for arming the Assad regime falls on those, like Russia, who continue to provide arms and block stronger international action. Russia may not be able to stop the bloodshed on its own, but its influence should not be underestimated.
Upon finding delays in construction at a ski-jumping complex, Russian President Vladimir Putin acted quickly to fire the deputy head of Russia’s Olympic Committee. If only he would express such anger and act so quickly to stop the ongoing slaughter in Syria.