Russia has no 'new' plans to sell Syria an advanced air defense system, its foreign minister said on Friday, denying media reports that it planned such a sale.
Itar-Tass news agency quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Russia would be fulfilling contracts it has already concluded with Damascus, but did not say the S-300 system will not be transferred to Damascus in their course.
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The statement was given against the backdrop of grave concerns in the West and in Israel that Syrian President Bashar Assad will gain the advanced system, which will make airstrikes in Syria, if necessary, very difficult.
S-300 in action (Photo: AFP)
On the night between Wednesday and Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked with United States President Barack Obama on the phone and discussed with him the aforementioned defense system and the possibility of Syria acquiring it.
The Assad regime already asked the Russians for the S-300 missiles in the last decade. The deal was delayed due to pressures by former President George W. Bush and other Western countries on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but recently concerns have arisen that the deal may be back on track.
Soldiers drilling use of system (Photo: AFP)
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that the US is examining Israeli information to the effect that Russia is renegotiating the S-300 deal.
According to the report, the deal was supposed to include six missile launchers and 144 missiles with a range of 200 km, the first shipment to be delivered to Syria within three months.
Ynet analyst Ron Ben-Yishai explained on Thursday that Russia's concern that the US and the West are approaching a military intervention in the Syrian civil war is the reason Moscow pulled out its most
effective pressure card – the intent to deliver S-300 missiles to Assad's army.
Some in the West are of the opinion that Russia intends to reach a deal with the US and NATO, the spirit of which is "You'll not supply arms to the rebels and not intervene in Syria, and we won't supply the Syrians with the system."
It seems the Russian wish to deter Israel from further attacks in Syria, like the one attributed to it over the weekend and in January 2013.
The S-300 is a Russian system made to intercept aircraft at ranges of over 100 km (60 miles) as well as ballistic missiles. It is unknown exactly which model Russia intends to sell to the Syrians, although it is known that Syria has asked in the past for the model referred to by NATO as the SA10.
Israel made clear then to the Russian that having these anti-aircraft missile systems in Syria would neutralize Israel's ability to defend itself since the system would be capable of hitting aircrafts not only above Lebanon and Syria, but also immediately when they take off out of almost every base in the center and north of Israel. Russia accepted the argument.
Russian President Putin said on Friday that he and British Prime Minister David Cameron, on a visit to Moscow, agreed they have a "common interest to quickly end the violence and begin a peaceful process" to resolve the Syrian crisis.
Cameron said that though his country and Russia's views on the settlement of the crisis differ, they both seek the same goal of ending the conflict in war-torn Syria.
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