BEIRUT: Lebanon this month turned down a long-standing offer of Russian military aid that had caused concern for the United States, a major backer of the Lebanese army, a senior Lebanese political source told Reuters.
“The rejection came on the pretext that Lebanon does not need these kinds of weapons and ammunition, but the reason was maybe because of US pressure,” the source said, confirming a report in Lebanese daily al-Akhbar.
The source said Lebanon spurned the offer, which had been made early this year, earlier this month.
The United States is the biggest donor to the Lebanese army, providing more than $1.5 billion in support since 2006.
The United States says the support has aimed to strengthen the army as “the sole” military force defending Lebanon – where Hezbollah holds major sway – and to counter threats from neighbouring Syria.
Western diplomats have said that Lebanon accepting the Russian offer would be problematic for Washington and its Western allies.
Russian forces are widely deployed in neighbouring Syria, where they have been fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad since 2015 alongside Iran-backed groups including Hezbollah – which is listed as a terrorist group by Washington.
Under a 2017 law, the United States can impose sanctions on countries that engage in “significant transactions” with the Russian military.
The United States has been increasing pressure on Russia globally through sanctions in recent years over actions including its role in annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014, a nerve agent attack in Britain, allegations of meddling in the 2016 US election, and its role in Syria.
Exact details of the size of the Russian offer are not known.
In February the Russian government published a draft military accord between Russia and Lebanon. The five-year renewable agreement included the general aspirations of improving information exchanges, developing military training and fighting terrorism.
Local media and a Western diplomat early this year said Russia was offering a $1 billion line of credit to the Lebanese military for arms and other military purchases.