A Russian shipment of anti-ship missiles to Syria could embolden President Bashar Assad's forces and prolong the conflict, the top US military officer said on Friday.
"It's at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering, so it's ill-timed and very unfortunate," General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon.
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Dempsey said he was referring specifically to the anti-ship missiles, which Reuters reported earlier on Friday had been sent by Russia to Syria.
These are apparently an improved version of the Yakhonts, which Russia has previously provided to Syria, and have been outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the recent visit of State Secretary John Kerry to Russia was motivated by these issues, and to try and find a common ground to solve the volatile situation.
"What's happening there, everybody knows, is very, very dangerous. And what we don't want to see happen, the Russians don't want to see happen, is for Syria to erupt to the point where we may well find a regional war in the Middle East," Hagel said.
Over the last few weeks, concerns have arisen in the West over supposed Russian overtures to the beleaguered Assad regime.
Earlier on Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported Russia has sent at least a dozen warships to its naval base on the Syrian coast, a buildup that US and European officials see as a newly aggressive stance meant partly to warn the West and Israel not to intervene in Syria's bloody civil war.
Earlier on Friday, US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US government is unaware of new arms transfers from Russia to Syria.
Nonetheless, Psaki expressed concern over any arms transfers meant to aid the Syrian regime.
On Thursday, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia would remain committed to previously signed arms deal "regarding agreements pertaining to aerial defense weapons."
Lavrov was referring to the S-300 advanced missile defense system, considered by many to be a game changing addition to Syria's arsenal, which could intercept aircraft in a range exceeding 100 km.
According to Lavrov, Russia will not sign any new deal with the Syrian government, but is nonethless obligated to previous commitments.
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