SYRIA-CONFLICTAt least 600 Russians and Europeans are fighting alongside the rebels battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

“It is known that there are at least 600 people from Russia  and Europe fighting along with opposition forces in Syria,”Putin said during the Forum’s plenary session.

Putin reiterated that weapon supplies to the Syrian rebels  violate international law, and threaten to further destabilize  the war-torn state.

“Why supply weapons to militant forces in Syria when we are  not sure of the composition of these groups?” he said, adding  that it remains unclear where these arms will end up.

“If the United States … recognizes one of the key Syrian  opposition organizations, al-Nusra, as terrorist … how can one  deliver arms to those opposition members?” Putin said.  “Where will (those weapons) end up? What role will they  play?”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has also criticized the supply of arms  to the rebels in separate remarks to AP and Bloomberg: “The  problem is that the weapons are coming to the region anyway,”Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

“And if you take, you know, stock of what is being used by the  opposition you would find a lot of arms shipped by the West,  including the US, to the Gulf countries and to other countries in  the region,” he said. “So, this smuggling continues and  this is very dangerous. Because the leading opposition force on  the ground is very extremist.”

Putin’s remarks echo a statement made by French Interior Minister  Manuel Valls earlier in June, when he said that more than 600  European nationals, including 120 from France, are fighting in  Syria.

At the time, Russia said that around 200 of its citizens were  fighting in Syria alongside rebel militants as part of a  self-proclaimed ‘Caucasus Emirate’ under the flag of Al Qaeda,  and that there were “various organizations affiliated with  it.”

In Spain, at least eight people allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda were arrested in Ceuta on  suspicion of recruiting jihadi fighters to go to Syria, and  elsewhere.

Prior to that, Belgium announced in April it had detained the  leader of Sharia4Belgium, radical Salafist organization that was  allegedly recruiting volunteers to fight in the Syrian civil war.

Britain was one the first Western countries to raise concerns  over European Muslims joining the Syrian rebels. The Home Office  voiced fears that scores of UK citizens fighting in Syria may use  their military know-how to wreak havoc when they return home, and  carry out terror attacks.

However, despite these concerns, EU governments agreed to not extend the arms embargo on Syria,  effectively allowing them to supply the Syrian opposition with  weapons.

Russia slammed the move, but in response was criticized for its contract to deliver  advanced S-300 long-range air defense systems to Damascus. Moscow  maintains that all arms supplies to Syria are being carried out  under a contract signed with the country several years ago.
“Russia, in the framework of existing international law, in  open and transparent contracts, supplies weaponry to the current  and the legitimate government of Syria,” Putin said at the  Economic Forum.  (RT News)