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memri
September 28, 2018 No.
7690

Reactions To Russia's Decision To Supply Syria With A Modern S-300 Air Defense Missile System

What Happened

On September 24, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu disclosed that Russia will supply an S-300 surface-to-air missile system to Syria.

The decision was made after a Russian Ilyushin-20 was shot down with 15 servicemen aboard over the Mediterranean, on September 17. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, radio contact was lost with the Ilyushin-20 plane, 35 kilometers away from Syria’s shore, as the plane was returning to the Khmeimim air base.

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that the Russian plane was shot down by the Syrian air defense. However, the Russian Defense Ministry considered the Israeli Air Force responsible for the crash.

Israeli F-16s, which were bombing targets in Latakia, have been accused of having used the Ilyushin-20 as a cover, thus making it vulnerable to the Syrian S-200 air defense system. Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov furthermore stated that the Israeli air force intentionally created a threatening situation for ships and aircraft in the area.[1]


Russian S-300 air defense missile systems. (Source: Presstv.com)

Russian Defense Minister Shoigu: At Israel's Request, We Suspended The Delivery Of S-300 Systems To Syria In 2013, Now The Situation Has Changed

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the Syrian army will receive S-300 air-defense missiles from Russia, in order to strengthen Syria's combat capabilities. "A modern S-300 air defense missile system will be supplied to the Syrian Armed Forces within two weeks. It is capable of intercepting air assault weapons at a distance of more than 250 kilometers and hit simultaneously several air targets," Shoigu said.

Shoigu then added: "I will underscore - 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."[2]

Shoigu also stated that the delivery of the S-300 systems will "cool off hotheads," otherwise Russia will be forced "to respond in line with situation" that unfolds in real time.[3]

Putin-Assad Phone Conversation – Putin: Russia Is Ready To Hand Over The S-300 Missile System To Syria

On September 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a telephone conversation with the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, at the latter’s initiative.

As reported by the Kremlin website, Putin informed al-Assad about his decision to introduce additional measures in order to ensure the security of Russian military personnel in Syria and to improve Syria’s air defense system, by handing over a modern S-300 missile system.[4]

 

Putin-Netanyahu Phone Conversation – Putin: Israeli Air Force's Actions Were The Main Cause Of The Tragedy

On the same day, on September 24, Putin had a telephone conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the latter’s initiative.

As reported by the Kremlin website, Russia "proceeds from the premise that the actions of the Israeli Air Force were the main cause of the tragedy".

Putin stressed that Russia’s decision to strengthen the combat capabilities of Syrian air defenses is appropriate and is primarily intended to prevent potential threats to the lives of the Russian military service members.[5]

It is worth noting that during a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, a few days previously Putin stressed that the plane crash was caused by a "chain of tragic circumstances."[6]

 

The US Position – Bolton: This Is A 'Significant Escalation'

Russia's decision to deliver S-300 systems to Syria was met by high level American criticism. US National Security Adviser John Bolton said: "We think introducing the S-300s to the Syrian government would be a significant escalation by the Russians ... and something that we hope, if these press reports are accurate, they would reconsider."

Bolton then added: "There shouldn’t be any misunderstanding here ... The party responsible for the attacks in Syria and Lebanon and really the party responsible for the shooting down of the Russian plane is Iran."[7]

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that he expected to meet with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov in New York, during the UN General Assembly’s session.[8]

Russia's Deputy FM Bogdanov: It Is Russia's Sovereign Right To Supply S-300 Systems To Syria

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov has said that the decision to provide S-300 air defense systems to Syria is a sovereign right. He also said that this decision won't spoil Russia-Israel relations.

Bogdanov said: "I don’t believe it will [spoil Russia-Israel relations]. Our relations [with Israel] are far wider. This is an important issue, of course. But it is also our right and the right of sovereign Syria."[9]

Russia's Deputy FM Ryabkov: We Are Ready To Discuss With US The S-300 Delivery, But Washington Should Tone It Down

Deputy FM Sergey Ryabkov said that Russia is ready to discuss with the US the delivery of S-300 to Syria.

Ryabkov said: "We are ready to discuss with the US any matter regarding to Syria and anywhere. Yet, in order to achieve a productive discussion the American partners should give up their mentoring tone and attempts to present their attitudes and views as the sole possible and permissible ones."[10]

Russian MFA Official Ermakov: Israel Is Our Partner

The director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control (DNAC) Vladimir Ermakov said that the US is not being honest, when it says that the supply of S-300 systems to Syria would endanger their security.

Ermakov said: "The systems are purely defensive, that’s why the US is being deceitful when it says that the supply of the systems to Syria would endanger their security."[11]

Ermakov then added: "The delivery [of the systems] is definitely not aimed against Israel. Israel is our partner."[12]

MP Shvytkin: Foreign Military Jets Can Be Hit At Any Moment If They Put Russian Military Personnel In Danger

MP Yuri Shvytkin, deputy head of the State Duma’s Defense Committee:

"Foreign military air assets should not have a sense of impunity, when they cross Syria's border with unclear intentions. They should understand that they may be hit at any moment, they will be targeted if they put our military [personnel] in jeopardy. This will be one of the restraining factors for states that commit criminal activity by striking or planning to strike (Syrian territory)."[13]

Military Expert Nikitenko: It Will Now be Impossible To Conduct Strikes, Without Being Punished; Israel behavior Will Be Different From Now On

Military expert Evgeny Nikitenko, professor at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, stated:

"This is not just a military move made by Moscow, this is a military-political measure with provides Assad and the Syrian armed forces with confidence in their ability to cover the country's territory and make it impossible to conduct strikes without punishment. Of course, Israel's behavior will be slightly different from now on. Secondly, this is a signal to the Americans and their coalition partners that it's not worth it to visit Syrian skies with military intentions."

He then added: "It's not just air-defense systems, this is a security guarantee for Syria's economic recovery."[14]

Russian Expert Batyuk: This Is A Message To The US

Vladimir Batyuk, head of the Political and Military Research Center at the Institute for the US and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also concurred with Nikitenko's view, and added that the S-300 delivery is a "show of force" directed to the US.

Batyuk said: "The US military should think twice before conducting any activity against Syria". According to him, the American military is well aware of potential risks in case they try to hit Syrian territory after the delivery.[15]

Russian Expert Lukyanov: This Is A Message To Israel To Let Her Know That Russia Alone Rules Syria

Renown expert Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia in Global Affairs journal, stated:

"On the one hand this is a clear signal for Israel. On the other, no one is interested in shredding the cooperation level, which has been achieved with much effort."

According to Lukyanov, Russia's interest is to "persuade Israel that Moscow alone defines the rules of conduct [in Syria]."[16]

Kommersant Columnist Strokan: The Downing Of The Plane Freed Moscow's Hands; Russia Does Not Intend To Help The US And Israel Without Anything In Return

Sergey Strokan, columnist for Kommersant newspaper commented:

"Actually, if we look at the situation more carefully, then we may arrive at the conclusion that the Russian decision [to deliver the S-300] is not a signal only for Israel, but also for Israel's main strategic ally, the US, which traditionally considers Israel's security as its priority.

"After President Obama, heatedly disliked by the Israeli leadership, was replaced in the White House by Donald Trump, Washington has regained in the eyes of the Israeli establishment its former lost status as the main security guarantor. In Syria it has been achieved thanks to Russian-American agreements, including the ones reached during Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump.

"At the moment, at the peak of the sanctions war against Russia, many politicians and experts, contemplating 'what to do and whom to blame' tend to forget the role of Israeli issue during the summit. Donald Trump back then has publicly confirmed that 'Putin is very active in discussing with us and Benjamin Netanyahu, some decisions regarding Syria, which pertain to the long term security of Israel as well.'

"Yet, the agreements with the US at the end were a one-way street. Having done so much for providing Israel's security Moscow was unsuccessful in getting anything from Washington, except for new sanctions, though Russia definitely could have counted on some friendly gestures from the American side, let's say some modest attempts to normalize relations.

"The tragedy of IL-20 downing has in fact freed Moscow's hands and provide an excuse to explain clearly and unequivocally that it don’t know intend to solve US and Israel's problems in Syria for their pretty eyes [Russian idiom meaning just for nothing].

"And now Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, calls Latakia skies incident one of the most important topics to be discussed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The results of this discussion will stem from what the US will be able to offer Russia."[17]

 

Russian Analyst Melkinov: Who Will Pay For The S-300 Delivery?

Russian analyst Alexey Melnikov criticized the S-300 delivery to Syria in his blog that appears on Echo of Moscow.

Melkinov wrote:

"The matter of the fact is that today Russia due to Putin's fault has become involved in the Israel-Syria confrontation. Why does our country need that? What interests of Russian citizens does it serve? And, not less important, who will pay for S-300 delivery? Is it the funds saved following [the pension reform's] rise in the retirement age? The Il-20 tragedy has vividly demonstrated that by Putin's fault Russia has found itself caught in the crossfire in Syria.

"Instead of drawing conclusions and leaving Syria, the Russian authorities adopted precisely the opposite decision - to continue endangering the lives of Russian servicemen, burn out the resources and balance on the brink of military confrontation with Israel, the U.S. and their allies.

"Russia is becoming more deeply entangled in someone else's war in faraway Syria. Putin in his turn does not have a firm base behind him, as it used to be back in 2015 – he is losing [popular] support in a wakening country.

"There is no wise decision other than a rapid pull out of Russian forces from Syria and closing Russian military bases there - the faster, the better. It's time to go home. It's been way too long a time to go home."[18]

 

 

 

[1] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7681, Russia's Reactions To The Russian Plane Crash In The Mediterranean, September 23, 2018.

[2] Tass.com, September 24, 2018.

[3] Tass.com, September 24, 2018.

[4] Kremlin.ru, September 24, 2018.

[5] Kremlin.ru, September 24, 2018.

[6] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7681, Russia's Reactions To The Russian Plane Crash In The Mediterranean, September 23, 2018.

[7] Reuters.com, September 24, 2018.

[8] Reuters.com, September 24, 2018.

[9] Tass.com, September 24, 2018.

[10] Interfax.ru, September 24, 2018.

[11] Ria.ru, September 25, 2018.

[12] Ria.ru, September 25, 2018.

[13] Ria.ru, September 28, 2018.

[14] Interfax.ru, September 24, 2018.

[15] Interfax.ru, September 24, 2018.

[16] Interfax.ru, September 24, 2018.

[17] Kommersant.ru, September 24, 2018.

[18] Echo.msk.ru/blog/alex_melnikov, September 24, 2018.