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Russia makes its Syria case on Capitol Hill

Russian Embassy officials defended their country’s defense of the Syrian regime in a meeting with congressional staffers on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon, in a private briefing hosted by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL). "The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the USA in cooperation with the office of Honorable Senator Richard Durbin has the ...

Russian Embassy officials defended their country's defense of the Syrian regime in a meeting with congressional staffers on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon, in a private briefing hosted by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL).

"The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the USA in cooperation with the office of Honorable Senator Richard Durbin has the honor to invite you to a briefing on Russia's approach to the situation in Syria," reads the official invitation, obtained by The Cable. "Officers of the Embassy's political and congressional sections will be ready to provide you with an overview of the Russian position, as well as answer your questions on this pressing international issue."

Russian Embassy officials defended their country’s defense of the Syrian regime in a meeting with congressional staffers on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon, in a private briefing hosted by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL).

"The Embassy of the Russian Federation to the USA in cooperation with the office of Honorable Senator Richard Durbin has the honor to invite you to a briefing on Russia’s approach to the situation in Syria," reads the official invitation, obtained by The Cable. "Officers of the Embassy’s political and congressional sections will be ready to provide you with an overview of the Russian position, as well as answer your questions on this pressing international issue."

The briefing was led by Russian embassy officials Anton Vushkarnik and Sergey Kuznetsov, according to the invitation, but several other embassy officials also spoke at the meeting.

About half a dozen Senate staffers attended the briefing, which got pretty heated, according to congressional sources briefed on the meeting. The Russian embassy officials refused to acknowledge basic facts about the burgeoning conflict in Syria, including that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to kill his own people. The Russia officials also claimed that an equal number of Syrian civilians have died at the hands of the Syrian opposition.

The Russian officials also defended their country’s ongoing arms sales to the Syrian regime, pointing out that there is no international law preventing such sales. (Of course, it was Russia along with China that vetoed the U.N. Security Council resolution that would have instituted such an arms embargo.)

The Russian officials also drew an equivalency between the killing of civilians in Syria and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, arguing that the U.S. government protects the Israeli government in the United Nations when its actions are criticized, the congressional sources said. The Russian officials accused the U.S. government of hypocrisy and arrogance in its public calls for better Russian behavior in Syria.

Since last year, Durbin has been actively calling for more international action and pressure on the Syrian regime to compel a halt in government sponsored violence.

"Today’s meeting gave a bipartisan group of offices the opportunity to voice their serious concerns about Russia’s arms sales to Syria directly to the Russian Embassy. Many on the Hill, led by Senators Durbin, Cornyn, Ayotte and Gillibrand, have strongly condemned Russia’s role in the bloody conflict," Durbin’s spokesman Max Gleishman told The Cable.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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