Doubts Regarding Delivery of S-300s to Syria

May 31, 2013
Photo: S. Porter/Vedomosti

[This report in Vedomosti analyses the doubts expressed by some regarding the delivery of the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria by the Russian government. The article suggests that these systems may be of little use to the Assad regime, and are in fact more important as a source of international leverage for the Russian government.—Ed.]

The Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar has published excerpts from an interview with Syrian President Bashar Assad by the television channel of the Lebanese Shiite organization Hezbollah, in which he states that Syria has already received the Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles, Reuters reported. Earlier, the US and Israel had called upon Moscow to cancel the deliveries of the S-300s to Syria, and this was one of the topics of a recent visit to Russia by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other officials in Russia announced that Russia is continuing to deliver the weapons to Syria under previously concluded contracts and will not cancel the deliveries of the anti-aircraft systems that can be used only for self-defense. Vyacheslav Davidenko, a representative of Rosoboroneksport, the Russian state arms exporter, declined to comment yesterday.

In fact, the anti-aircraft systems were not delivered to Syria, a source in the defense industry told Vedomosti, and whether or not they will be delivered this year is unknown. The contract for delivery of the four S-300PMU-2 systems for the sum of up to $1 billion was signed back in 2010, but civil war broke out in Syria in 2011. According to Vedomosti’s source, these systems under current conditions could not help the Syrian government withstand air strikes, if NATO or Israel were to take such a decision, and that everyone understands this. According to the source, the official reluctance by Russian authorities to provide public pledges to cancel the delivery of these systems does not yet mean the deliveries will take place. Moscow’s official position — that it will fulfill the contracts signed with Syria – is based on recent Iranian and Libyan experience, when in exchange for a voluntary refusal to deliver the S-300 systems to Iran in 2010 and agreement to an arms embargo by the UN Security Council against Libya after the beginning of the civil war there in 2011, Russia did not get anything, and suffered the loss of its reputation as a reliable supplier, says Vedomosti’s source.

On May 29, The Washington Post published a requisition written in the Russian language from the Syrian Defense Minister to Anatoly Isaykin, Director of Rosoboroneksport, requesting information on the prices of automatic rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, ammunition and anti-sniper systems. A source close to Rosoboroneksport doubted the authenticity of the document. According to Konstantin Makienko, a weapons expert, such leaks are an attempt to justify the decision of the European Union to allow weapons to be delivered to Syrian rebels. After this decision, Moscow must not back down from fulfilling its contracts to deliver to Damascus the weapons which are really necessary for the Syrian Army, which are in fact light weapons and small arms. The Syrians also need fuel, and not the expensive S-300PMU-2 systems.