Moscow to arm Syria with advanced anti-aircraft missiles after a massive air battle downed a Russian plane

Mikhail Svetlov/Getty ImagesRussian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Russia plans to immediately arm the Syria with S-300 anti-aircraft systems in response to the accidental shootdown of a Russian aircraft by Syrian forces during an Israeli airstrike last week.
  • Russia refrained from giving this system to the Syrians in the past due to Israeli protests, but Moscow now blames Israel for the deaths of 15 Russian crew members.
  • Israel blames erratic Syrian anti-aircraft fire for downing the plane.
  • In addition to the provision of S-300s, the Russian defence ministry warned that its forces will target the electronic systems of any military aircraft that launches strikes on Syrian targets, a risky move likely to escalate regional tensions.

Russia has decided to arm its Syrian partners with an advanced anti-aircraft weapons system and to target the electronic systems of any military aircraft that launches strikes in Syrian territory, the Russian defence ministry said Monday in response to losing a spy plane last week.

This incident “has pushed us to adopt adequate response measures directed at boosting the security of Russian troops,” Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu explained. Last week, using older S-200 surface-to-air missile defences, Syrian air defence forces accidentally shot down a Russian Il-20 electronic intelligence plane during an Israeli missile attack. The incident killed 15 Russians.

Russia intends to “transfer the modern S-300 air defence system to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks,” he said. “In regions near Syria over the Mediterranean Sea, there will be radio-electronic suppression of satellite navigation, onboard radar systems and communication systems of military aviation attacking objects on Syrian territory.”

“We are certain that the realisation of these measures will cool the ‘hot heads’ and will keep them from poorly thought-out actions which threaten our servicemen,” Shoigu concluded in a warning to both Israel, which claims to have conducted 200 strikes in Syria in the past year and a half, and perhaps the US and its coalition partners, which have on more than one occasion struck Syria for the use of chemical weapons.

The Kremlin insisted that the weapons delivery was not directed at any third country.

There were rumours in late April, just weeks after the US, Britain, and France launched strikes on Syria from both air and sea, about the possible provision of Russian S-300 anti-missile batteries to the Syrian regime. Russia has largely refrained from arming the Syrian air defence forces with S-300 due to protests from Israel, which would come under threat from the improved defences.

“At the request of the Israeli side, in 2013 we suspended the delivery of S-300 systems that were ready for the dispatch, while the Syrian military had undergone training. Now the situation has changed, and we are not to blame,” Shoigu said Monday.

Russia has already sold the system to Iran, much to Israel’s dismay given the weapon’s ability to threaten Israeli air superiority and complicate air strikes in the event of a conflict. In Syria, Russian troops already operate advanced S-300 and S-400 anti-aircraft systems to defend their own ships and planes, but this would be a first for the Syrian air defence forces.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman warned earlier this year that Israel will respond with force if anyone shoots at Israeli planes. “One thing needs to be clear: If someone shoots at our planes, we will destroy them,” he explained.

White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said Monday that he hopes Russia will reconsider supplying missiles to Syria, noting that it is a would be a “major mistake” and “significant escalation.”

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