MOSCOW — The Obama administration acknowledged on Friday that a shipment of Russian-made equipment confiscated on its way to Damascus did not violate sanctions, but said that Moscow’s policy of supplying aid to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was “still morally bankrupt.”
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said the cargo confiscated on Wednesday contained electronic components for a radar station and that such equipment fell within the bounds of international agreements. In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Victoria Nuland, did not dispute that but expressed the administration’s “grave concern” over Russia’s support for Mr. Assad, whose government is fighting a 19-month-old uprising that has turned into a civil war.
“No responsible country ought to be aiding and abetting the war machine of the Assad regime and particularly those with responsibilities for global peace and security as U.N. Security Council members have,” Ms. Nuland said.
Of the shipment, she said, “we have no doubt, this was serious military equipment.”
On Friday, Mr. Lavrov offered the most detailed explanation Russia has given in its dispute with Turkey over the Moscow-to-Damascus flight, which was intercepted by Turkish warplanes on Wednesday andforced to land in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where the passengers and crew members had to wait for hours. Turkish inspectors examined the aircraft and impounded what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described as Russian munitions bound for Syria’s Defense Ministry.
“We have no secrets,” Mr. Lavrov said. “We have studied the situation: there were no weapons on this airplane, of course, and there could not be. On the airplane there was cargo, which a legal Russian shipper sent via legal means to a legal customer.”
It remains unclear why the shipment was sent to Damascus via a commercial airliner.
The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on Saturday that the cargo had been sent by a company based in Tula, which produces antitank, antiaircraft and anti-artillery systems, as well as radar equipment. The company identified, KBP Tula, was accused by the United States in 2003 of providing weapons and sophisticated military equipment to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, in violation of United Nations sanctions.
The plane was permitted to leave on Thursday, but Russia and Syria protested the Turkish actions. Russia demanded a further explanation, and Syria said it would file a complaint with international aviation authorities.
The dispute has escalated tensions between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia, the major arms supplier to Mr. Assad. The fighting has shown no sign of easing and has raised fears that the Middle East will be destabilized, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have spilled into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
Turkey’s leaders, who were once close to Mr. Assad, have turned against him and are major backers of the insurgents, who have operated from Turkey and have secured areas of Syrian territory along the Turkish border.
In Istanbul on Saturday, according to news reports, Mr. Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, criticized the United Nations Security Council, and in particular China and Russia, for failing to take decisive steps to end the Syrian crisis.
China and Russia — both permanent members of the Security Council — have vetoed resolutions intended to pressure the Syrian government to end the fighting and seek a peaceful political transition.
“If we wait for one or two of the permanent members,” Mr. Erdogan said, according to The Associated Press, “then the future of Syria will be in danger.”
The inaction, Mr. Erdogan said, according to media reports, was encouraging the Damascus government to continue its brutal assault.
“The U.N. Security Council has not intervened in the human tragedy that has been going on in Syria for 20 months, despite all our efforts,” Mr. Erdogan said, according to Reuters. “There’s an attitude that encourages, gives the green light to Assad to kill tens or hundreds of people every day.”
Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Hatay, Turkey, and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.