Russia to Send Advanced Anti-aircraft Missiles to Assad, Officials Say, Warning Israel of 'Catastrophic Consequences'

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that Moscow is undecided on whether it would deliver advanced S-300 missile systems to Syria, but would not make a secret of the matter if it took such a decision

FILE PHOTO: S-300 air defense missile is launched in Ashuluk shooting range in southern Russia.
AP

Russia is expected to provide the Bashar Assad regime with S-300 anti-aircraft defense systems soon, senior Russian officials told the Kommersant newspaper on Monday. If Israel attacks the new air defense systems it will suffer “catastrophic consequences,” said the officials.

The S-300 PMU-2 “Favourite” version of the anti-aircraft systems will be provided to the Syrians for free and very soon, reported Kommersant.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Russia had not yet decided whether it would deliver advanced S-300 missile systems to Syria, but would not make a secret of the matter if it took such a decision, the TASS news agency reported. 

"We'll have to wait to see what specific decisions the Russian leadership and representatives of Syria will take," TASS cited Lavrov as saying on Monday during a visit to Beijing. 

"There is probably no secret about this and it can all be announced (if a decision is taken)," added Lavrov. 

Syrian walk by posters of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Aleppo, Syria, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018
Hassan Ammar/AP

The Kremlin declined to comment Monday on media reports that Russia planned to soon supply Syria with S-300 missile systems, but said a Western missile strike on Syria had soured the atmosphere in the region. 

"The missile strike badly worsened the atmosphere around Syria and the Syrian peace process," Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Monday when asked about the possible S-300 delivery. 

"Great damage was done to international law and the spirit of international law in terms of cooperation," he concluded.

The Kommersant reported that experts believed Israel would react negatively to the development and might bomb the area where the missile systems would be deployed.

Russia has decided to provide support to the Assad regime after the attack by the United States and its allies in Syria this month, a Russian defense analyst said. Ruslan Pukhov, who is the director of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told the newspaper that Russia has to provide an answer to the attacks in some form, and it seems this may be the option chosen to demonstrate support for Assad.

>> For Syrians Who Lived Under ISIS' Iron Fist, a New Nightmare Awaits Under Assad || Analysis >>

A week ago after the attack, Colonel-General Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate, said Russia was reconsidering supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria and other countries. "A few years ago, taking into account a pressing request from some of our Western partners, we abandoned the supplies of the S-300 missile systems to Syria. Considering the latest developments, we deem it possible to get back to discussing this issue, not only in relation to Syria, but to other countries as well," he said.

The news of the delivery of the S-300 antiaircraft systems to the Assad regime comes on the backdrop of rising tensions around the Syrian civil war as it enters its eighth year.

Following an alleged chemical attack by regime forces in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the United States, together with France and the U.K., carried out precision air strikes against regime targets in Syria. However, the Assad government vehemently denied the charges and Russia backed its claims that the accusations were groundless, condemning the strikes.

A few days after the alleged chemical attack, a strike on an Iranian base in Syria known as T4, which Iran was trying to turn into a large air force compound under its exclusive control, was blamed on Israel by Syria, Russia as well as Iran.

Shortly afterwards, Israeli officials spoke anonymously to The New York Times admitting Israel was indeed behind the strike. Another report in the Wall Street Journal revealed that Israeli military targeted an advanced Iranian air-defense system at the T4 base in Syria last week and not just drone deployment there.

Seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force members, including drone unit commander Colonel Mehdi Dehgan, were killed in the strikes on T4.

Israel has previously threatened to strike in Syria were the S-300 anti-aircraft systems to be obtained and deployed by the Assad regime.