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Why Russia is willing to sell arms to Syria

Russia, which has weapons contracts with Syria worth $5 billion, is increasingly resisting international pressure to punish its ally. Yesterday it did not deny a report of a recent arms shipment.

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Anti-Syrian regime protesters chant slogans and flash the victory sign as they march during a demonstration at the mountain resort town of Zabadani, Syria, near the Lebanese border, Tuesday. Syria's powerful ally Russia said Wednesday it would block any attempt by the West to secure UN support for the use of force against the regime in Damascus, which is under intense international pressure to end its deadly crackdown on dissent.

AP

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Russia is digging in its heels against international action that would punish Syria's regime for its brutal crackdown on a popular uprising that has moved into its 11th month.

Not only will Russia veto any sanctions put before the United Nations Security Council, where it is one of five veto-wielding members, it also looks set to continue supplying billions of dollars worth of Russian arms that Syria has contracted to buy. And it will not halt friendly Russian gestures toward the regime of Bashar al-Assad, such as this month's visit of Russia's only operational aircraft carrier to the Syrian port of Tartous.

As the death toll for Syria's popular uprising has risen to more than 5,000 in recent months, international leaders have called for more punitive sanctions against the Assad regime. But Russia's opposition to such measures has toughened in part due to increasing suspicions of Western intentions, and in part due to growing fears that Russia could lose its oldest and most important Middle Eastern ally through Western-sponsored regime change in Syria.

Some analysts add that Russia's own bubbling political instability has sharpened the Kremlin's traditional resistance to any precedents that seem to mandate outside interference in a sovereign country's internal affairs.

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