DOD Reports Call Into Question Claims About Russian Helicopter Shipments To Syria

Yesterday’s claims by Secretary of State Clinton that the Russians were shipping attack helicopters to Syria seem to be far more ambiguous in the light of information that Department of Defense officials have provided to reporters:

WASHINGTON — When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Russia on Tuesday of shipping attack helicopters to Syria that would “escalate the conflict quite dramatically,” it was the Obama administration’s sharpest criticism yet of Russia’s support for the Syrian government.

What Mrs. Clinton did not say, however, was whether the aircraft were new shipments or, as administration officials say is more likely, helicopters that Syria had sent to Russia a few months ago for routine repairs and refurbishing, and which were now about to be returned.

“She put a little spin on it to put the Russians in a difficult position,” said one senior Defense Department official.

Mrs. Clinton’s claim about the helicopters, administration officials said, is part of a calculated effort to raise the pressure on Russia to abandon President Bashar al-Assad, its main ally in the Middle East. Russia has so far stuck by Mr. Assad’s government, worried that if he were ousted, Moscow would lose its influence in the region.

In response to Mrs. Clinton’s allegations, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, accused the United States of hypocrisy on Wednesday, saying it had supplied weapons that could be used against demonstrators in other countries in the region. Mr. Lavrov, during a visit to Iran, repeated Russia’s claim that it is not supplying Damascus with any weapons that could be used in a civil war.

“We are not providing Syria or any other place with things which can be used in struggle with peaceful demonstrators, unlike the United States, which regularly supplies such equipment to this region,” Mr. Lavrov said. He singled out a recent delivery to “one of the Persian Gulf states” — perhaps a reference to Bahrain. “But for some reason the Americans consider this completely normal.”


Administration officials declined to give details about the helicopters, saying the information was classified. But White House and intelligence officials have backed up the substance of her comments. Some officials said that whether the helicopters were new or refurbished, they were equally deadly when turned against the civilian population.

Well, it strikes me that there’s something of a substantive difference between a world where these are helicopters that the Russians had already provided to the Syrians some time ago, perhaps even before the rebellion started, and where they are helicopters that the Russians are supplying the Syrians right now, in the middle of what is clearly an uptick in violence in what has been struggle that has lasted more than year. Moreover, if the Syrians already had these helicopters, which seems to be the case, then the fact that they hadn’t used them in operations before now, as far as we know, would seem to be significant. No?

Not to defend the Syrians here at all, of course. Assad is a brutal dictator who seems intent on surpassing his father’s bloody reputation. However, is it fair to say that Secretary Clinton wasn’t exactly telling the truth, or at least exaggerating reality by leaving out what seem like relevant acts,  the other day? I strikes me that it might be.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, National Security, Quick Takes, US Politics, World Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CB says:

    regional power sends weapons and equipment to client state? color me shocked. id bet that the US would react to these same accusations with indignation in public, and shoulder shrugs in private. why is any of this even surprising to anyone?