Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin amid concerns Moscow may be about to deliver advanced missiles to Syria, the Kremlin said Saturday.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the visit to AFP, but declined to give details, although he told the Interfax news agency it was being planned for next week.
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The state RIA Novosti news agency, citing a diplomatic source, also said Netanyahu expected to call on Putin at his Black Sea residence in Sochi early next week.
"The visit is currently at the stage of active preparations," the source was quoted as saying.
Despite alleged denials, Israel is adamant on preventing the Syrian acquisition of advanced S-300 air defense system: Netanyahu is planning to urge Putin to back out of the arms deal with the Syrian regime.
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 or whether it has already done so.
The goal of the pressing visit is to allow the two leaders to coordinate their positions regarding Syria and Hezbollah, and, more importantly, to prevent the implementation of the Russian-Syrian arms deal which the Russians have postponed, but failed to cancel.
S-300 in action (Photo: AFP)
On Friday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would only be fulfilling contracts it has already signed with Damascus, but did not say whether the S-300 system is included in these previously agreed on arms deal and whether the system would be transferred to Damascus in their course.
The statement was given against the backdrop of grave concerns in the West and in Israel that if Syrian President Bashar Assad were to gain the advanced system it would hinder any international attempts at intervention.
Soldiers drilling use of system (Photo: AFP)
Lavrov, currently visiting Poland, was quizzed by journalists in Warsaw regarding the S-300 deal, and said: “Russia has no plans to sell, it already sold long ago, and it is now completing supplies under the previous contracts on units that are air defense systems,” he said.
“This is not banned by any international norms, these are defense weapons," he said, adding that "they are intended for Syria in this case to have an opportunity to defend itself from air strikes. And this, as we know, is not too fantastic scenario.”
On the night between Wednesday and Thursday, Netanyahu spoke with US President Barack Obama on the phone and discussed with him the aforementioned defense system and the possibility of Syria acquiring it. The call was the first time the two had spoken since the latter's visit in Israel.
The Assad regime already asked the Russians for the S-300 missiles in the last decade, requesting a model referred to by NATO as the SA10.
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.
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.
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