MOSCOW – A Syrian plane that was forced to land in Turkey was legally carrying Russian radar parts for Syria, Russia's foreign minister said Friday.
Sergey Lavrov insisted the shipment of "electric equipment for radars" was a legitimate cargo that complied with international law, but he added that it was of "dual purpose," meaning it could have civilian and military applications.
"It's not forbidden by any international conventions," Lavrov said, adding that the Russian company that sent it to Syria will demand that Turkey return the cargo. He didn't name the Russian company or the cargo's recipient in Syria.
Russia has been Syrian President Bashar Assad's main supporter and ally, shielding him from international sanctions over his crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011. Moscow has rejected Western sanctions against Assad's regime and said it would honor earlier signed weapons contracts with Syria for the delivery of anti-shipping and air defense missiles. The Kremlin has insisted that the Russian arms sales don't violate any international agreements and scoffed at Western demands to halt the trade.
Russia normally sends weapons for Syria by sea. In June, a Russian-operated ship carrying helicopter gunships and air defense missiles was forced to turn back to Russia after its British insurer removed coverage for the vessel.
The Syrian Airbus A320 was intercepted by Turkish fighter jets on its way from Moscow to Damascus on Wednesday and forced to land in Ankara amid heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria, fueled by recent cross-border shelling from Syria that killed five Turkish civilians.
Turkey's prime minister said Thursday that the plane was carrying ammunition and military equipment for the Syrian Defense Ministry.
"Of course, there weren't and there couldn't be any weapons on board the plane," Lavrov said. "The plane was carrying a cargo, which a legal Russian supplier was sending in a legal way to a legal customer. Cargo documents had been issued fully in line with usual demands. Transporting that kind of cargo by civilian planes is absolutely normal practice."
The plane was allowed to continue to Damascus after several hours, without the cargo. Syria branded the incident piracy and Russia called the search illegal, saying it endangered the lives of Russian citizens aboard the plane.
Lavrov said that Moscow is still awaiting official explanation from Turkey on its refusal to let Russian diplomats aboard the plane as it was sitting on the tarmac.
On Friday, President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of his Security Council that focused on the situation in Syria, the Kremlin said without providing details.