President Michel Sleiman is expected to ask Russia during his visit to Moscow later this month to resume Russian military aid to the Lebanese Army and security forces, according to sources at Baabda Palace.
Sleiman is scheduled to visit Russia on Jan. 22-23 at an official invitation from Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia. The invitation was conveyed to Sleiman by the head of the International Institution for the Unity of Orthodox Peoples who visited Lebanon last month to offer condolences over the death of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius IV Hazim.
During the two-day visit, Sleiman will hold talks with senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, on developments in the region, particularly the 21-month-old crisis in Syria, and ideas and initiatives proposed by U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi and other parties to resolve the crisis, the sources said.
The talks will also cover the possible repercussions of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon, particularly the flow of a massive number of Syrian refugees into the country, the sources added.
According to the sources, Sleiman will hand Putin an official copy of the “Baabda Declaration,” explaining its most important provisions and stressing that the rival factions’ adherence to this document will be sufficient to protect Lebanon against attempts to drag it into regional and international conflicts.
The so-called “Baabda Declaration,” approved by the rival political factions during a National Dialogue session last June, calls for distancing Lebanon from regional conflicts, particularly the repercussions of the Syrian crisis.
In his meetings with Russian officials, Sleiman is expected to discuss the conditions of Christians in the region and what Lebanon and Russia can do to help protect them and prevent attempts to oppress them, the sources said.
The sources disclosed that the delegation headed by Sleiman to Moscow would ask for the resumption of Russian military aid to the Lebanese Army and security forces.
Russia had in the past offered to send a “gift” of MiG planes to Lebanon. However, the MiG planes were never sent after an international embargo was imposed on heavy and sophisticated arms to Lebanon, leaving the Russian pledge of military aid unfulfilled.
Now that this embargo has been lifted with the resumption of U.S. military aid to Lebanon, the sources said, Sleiman would bring up the issue of Russian military assistance during his meeting with Putin.
During the visit to Moscow, Sleiman is scheduled to receive an award from the International Institution for the Unity of Orthodox Peoples, bestowed annually by the institution to leaders and senior politicians for their sacrifices in the fields of reviving contact and dialogue among conflicting factions. Since it was founded 12 years ago, the institution has granted the prize to Christian personalities from various countries.
The Moscow visit will be Sleiman’s first international trip in the new year, and is expected to be followed by visits to a number of European and African countries.