Just as United Nations Special Envoy Kofi Annan calls it quits, world powers are beginning to assert themselves more forcefully in Syria. The prize for most strident show of force goes to Russia, which just sent three warships with 360 marines onboard to the Syrian port of Tartus. At the same time, Britain announced today it's stepping up "practical but non-lethal support" for Syrian rebels. Is this what happens when there's no more adult supervision?
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So far, it's not clear whether the Russians are going to bolster President Bashar al-Assad's forces or evacuate Russian citizens or do both. According to The New York Times' Ellen Barry and Alan Cowell, anonymous Russian defense officials say the ships will arrive within several days, with two remaining offshore and the third dropping anchor because the port isn't big enough to accomodate all the ships. "The ships, now in the Mediterranean Sea, are expected to stay for several days and deliver water and food to the small Russian naval base there, then return to the Black Sea port of Novorossisk," they report. "The official did not say whether the marines would remain in Syria or whether there are any plans to evacuate the estimated 30,000 Russian citizens in the country." The announcement of the move came from unnamed Russian defense officials, who also told various news agencies that Annan's peace plan failed because opposition forces in Syria refused to negotiate and were supported by "our Western partners, and certain regional states." Pinning the blame on the West, the officials added, "despite the decisions of the U.N. Security Council and Geneva, they continued to supply political, moral, material, technical and financial assistance to Syrian opposition groups, thereby encouraging the irreconcilability of antigovernment forces."
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Meanwhile, in Britain, foreign secretary William Hague said his country would continue working with the U.N. but would not sit idly on the sidelines. "Given the scale of death and suffering and the failure so far of the diplomatic process we will, over the coming weeks, increase our practical but non-lethal support," he told The BBC. "It will not involve sending armaments." According to The Telegraph, the debate in the U.S. and Turkey is now whether to allow the supply of surface-to-air missiles to rebels to help quicken the demise of Assad's regime. Interestingly, a separate piece in The New York Times notes that rebels are also getting heavy weaponry from an unlikely source: The Assad regime. "Rebels have turned part of Mr. Assad’s formidable arsenal on his own troops. Anti-Assad fighters on Wednesday shelled a military airport in the contested city of Aleppo with captured weapons," reports C.J. Chivers. "On Tuesday, rebels used commandeered Syrian Army tanks in a skirmish with Mr. Assad’s troops." Apparently all that equipment Assad stored up for an impending battle with Israel is now a liability as rebels attempt to seize the weaponry.