WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday that Russia is supplying the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with chemical weapons, marking the first time a U.S. official has publicly made the claim.
Under questioning by Rep. Joe Wilson during a hearing in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Hagel said the chemical weapons had come from Russia as well as other sources.
“Where did the chemical weapons come from?” Wilson asked.
“There’s no secret that the Assad regime has had chemical weapons, significant stockpiles of chemical weapons,” Hagel said, prompting Wilson to ask: “From a particular country?”
“Well, the Russians supply them,” Hagel said. “Others are supplying them with those chemical weapons. They make some themselves.”
“In a response to a member of Congress, Secretary Hagel was referring to the well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement. “The Syrian regime has a decades-old largely indigenous chemical weapons program. Currently, Russia provides the Syrian regime a wide variety of military equipment and support, some of which can be modified or otherwise used to support the chemical weapons program. We have publicly and privately expressed our concern over the destabilizing impact on the Syrian conflict and the wider region of continued military shipments to the Assad regime.”
This post has been updated with Little’s comment.