After Downing of Spy Plane, Russia to Supply Assad Regime With S-300 Air Defense System

Senior Russian defense official quoted saying that deployment of S-300 in Syria would severely hamstring the Israel Air Force ■ Kremlin says decision is not directed at any third country

Military personnel stand beside a Russian S-300 long range surface-to-air missile system in Kubinka, Russia, August 21, 2018
Bloomberg

Russia will supply Syria with S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems, as part of measures against Israel for the downing of its intelligence plane near Latakia last week, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Monday.

The report quotes a senior official in the Russian defense ministry, who posited that the deployment of S-300 in Syria would severely hamstring the Israel Air Force.

"It would be a very effective change," the official told Kommersant, and explained that Syrian air space would be safeguarded by advanced systems instead of the current, dated ones.

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Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu later declared on Monday that Moscow would deliver the S-300 to Syria, confirming the report. Last week's crash, which killed 15 people, had forced Moscow to take "adequate retaliatory measures to increase the safety of Russian military fighting international terrorism in Syria," Shoigu said in a televised address. 

Shoigu said Russia will equip Syrian anti-aircraft units with Russian tracking and guidance systems in order to identify Russian aircraft. 

"A modern S-300 air defense missile system will be transferred to the Syrian armed forces within two weeks," he said. The system will "significantly increase the Syrian army's combat capabilities," he said. 

A spokesperson for Syrian President Bashar Assad also confirmed Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told Assad that Moscow would bolster Syria's air defenses over a phone call.

"President Putin held Israel responsible for bring down the plane and informed President Assad that Russia will develop Syria's air defense systems," the Syrian presidency said. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia's decision to supply Syria with the S-300 system is aimed at increasing safety of Russian military. When asked about relations with Israel, Peskov said the decision was not directed at any third country. 

Russia's Defense Ministry on Sunday formally blamed Israel for the downing of the Russian aircraft last week over Syria, accusing the Israeli military of "criminal negligence." Israel has denied the allegation, claiming the mechanisms to coordinate with Russia were used properly prior to the downing of the Illyushin.

In a report detailing the circumstances surrounding the incident, Russia accused Israel of deliberately misleading Russia on its planned airstrikes, preventing the downed plane from moving to a safe place on time.

Moscow had planned delivering the S-300 to the Bashar Assad regime in April, in response to the combined airstrike by the U.S., France and Britain. Sources within the Russian government said at the time that if Israel were to attack the systems, the results would be "catastrophic."

Shoigu said on Sunday that Russia is now going to go ahead with the shipment because "the situation has changed, and it's not our fault." He also said that Russia would start to electronically jam aircraft flying in to attack targets in Syria. "We are convinced that these measures will calm down some hotheads and keep them from careless actions which pose a threat to our troops," Shoigu said.

Several reports had been made in recent years of Russia's intent to transfer the S-300 to the Assad regime. Each report was followed by heavy pressure exerted by Israel including talks between former Israeli president Shimon Peres, current president Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Putin and his predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev.

"A few years ago we considered the requests of our allies in the West and did not supply the S-300 missiles to Syria," said Col. Sergey Rodsky after the attack in April. "Given what has transpired, we are reconsidering the matter, not only in relation to Syria, but also in relation to other countries."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.