Russia is set to deliver a shipment of S-300 air defense missiles to President Bashar al-Assad's regime in 2014, Russian newspaper reports said Friday, rejecting claims that the missiles are already in the hands of the Syrian government, according to an AFP report.
Assad said in a television interview broadcast Thursday that Moscow had fulfilled some of its weapons contracts recently, but was vague on whether this included the advanced S-300 air defense systems. In excerpts of the same interview released earlier Thursday, Assad said Syria had already received the missiles.
According to the Vedomosti newspaper, a source in the Russian defense industry has said it is unclear if the S-300s would reach Syria this year. The Kommersant daily, meanwhile, cited a source as saying that the missiles would reach the Assad regime in the second quarter of 2014.
Both of the sources quoted by the two dailies said that no missiles had been delivered so far. The contract for the S-300 shipment was finalized in 2010. Vedomosti said the contract is worth $1 billion, AFP said.
Additionally, Vedomosti's source said that although Moscow is publicly stating that the contract will be honored, and the shipment delivered, there is no guarantee that this will actually happen.
In another report, a Russian arms industry source told Interfax news agency on Friday that Moscow is unlikely to deliver the missiles to Syria before the autumn.
The source suggested the delivery could be accelerated if neighboring countries carried out air attacks on Syria or if a no-fly regime were to be imposed on the country.
"Regarding the deliveries of the S-300, they can begin no earlier than the autumn. Technically it's possible, but much will depend on how the situation develops in the region and the position of Western countries," said the source, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The S-300s can intercept manned aircraft and guided missiles and Western experts say their delivery could improve Assad's chances of retaining power. Russia has promised to fulfill an order of the long-range surface-to-air missiles to Syria, saying it hopes to deter foreign military intervention in Syria.
Meanwhile, a Russian arms manufacturer has said it is signing a contract to deliver at least 10 fighter jets to Syria. Sergei Korotkov, general director of the MiG company that makes the jets, told Russian news agencies Friday that a Syrian delegation was in Moscow to discuss terms and deadlines of a new contract supplying MiG-29 M/M2 fighters to Syria. Korotkov did not say how many MiGs Syria were buying, but says it would be "more than 10." Russia has previously said that it would only fulfill outstanding arms contracts with Syria.
It is estimated that over 70,000 people have died in the two-year Syrian civil war.
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