By Carlo Muñoz - 06/28/12 05:42 PM EDT
A Russian-flagged cargo ship loaded with three Mi-25 attack helicopters is steaming toward the Syrian coast and should arrive in the country within days, Alexander Fomin, head of the federal service for military-technical co-operation, told Russian news service RIA-Novosti on Thursday.
A Russian cargo ship sailing under the Curaçao flag attempted to deliver the attack helicopters along with a number of air defense systems into Syria last month.
The ship was turned back from port when a U.K. marine insurer dropped coverage for the vessel after Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and others lambasted Russian defense firms for providing heavy weapons and helicopters to the Assad regime.
But when the vessel returned to port in Russia, the ship and its cargo were sent back to Syria under the Russian flag, which would not require insurance coverage to dock at the country's naval port in Tartus.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has repeatedly insisted the weapons are defensive in nature and are not feeding the violence in Syria.
Lavrov, Clinton and other world powers are scheduled to meet on Saturday in Geneva for an emergency round of peace talks on the growing crisis in Syria.
Congressional lawmakers have repeatedly slammed Russian defense firms for supplying heavy weapons and support to Assad's forces.
Those arms, lawmakers claim, have been used to massacre thousands of Syrian civilians and anti-government rebels during Assad's nearly year-long crackdown on opposition forces in the country.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) placed a hold on the Army’s nominee to become top weapons buyer, Heidi Shyu, over the Pentagon’s contract with Russian arms company Rosoboronexport, which is also allegedly providing Syrian arms to Assad’s forces.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said in an MSNBC interview that President Obama should take a hard line with Russian President Vladmir Putin and make clear “there are going to be grave consequences to our relationship if they continue” to supply Syrian arms.