This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russia has announced it will supply Syria with an S-300 ground-to-air missile system, saying it will improve the allied country’s defenses and help avert a repeat of the downing of a Russian warplane by Syrian forces a week ago.
Speaking on September 24, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Moscow will deliver the S-300 within two weeks and will also provide Syrian government forces with updated automated systems for its air-defense network.
This will improve Syrian air-defense operations and “most important, the identification of all Russian aircraft by Syrian air-defense systems will be guaranteed,” Shoigu said.
Syrian government forces shot a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane down off the northwestern province of Latakia on September 17, killing all 15 servicemen aboard.
Shoigu’s ministry angrily blamed Israel, accusing the country’s military of using the Russian plane as a cover to dodge Syrian air-defense systems.
President Vladimir Putin took a softer approach, saying last week that the shoot-down appeared to be the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”
But Putin announced that Russia would take visible measures to protect Russian military personnel in Syria.
In a statement on September 24, the Kremlin said that Putin told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of the decision during a telephone conversation initiated by Assad.
Putin “informed [Assad] about the decision to take a number of additional measures with the aim of providing for the security of Russian forces in Syria and strengthening the country’s air defense,
including the delivery of a modern S-300 air-defense missile complex to Syria,” the statement said.
Russia has given Assad crucial support throughout the war in Syria, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.
Moscow helped protect Assad from possible defeat and turn the tide of the war in his favor by launching a campaign of air strikes in 2015 and stepping up its military presence on the ground.
Much of Syria’s air-defense network has been provided by Russia but consists of weapons that are older and less effective than the S-300.
Russia suspended the supply of an S-300 system at an earlier stage in the war, amid Israeli concerns that it could be used against it.
Shoigu said that “the situation has changed, and it’s not our fault,” adding that the supply of an S-300 would “calm down some hotheads” whose actions “pose a threat to our troops.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that Russia’s decision to deliver an S-300 was not targeted against anyone and was aimed solely to protect Russian troops in Syria.
The reconnaissance plane’s downing “was indeed preceded by a chain of tragic accidents,” Peskov said, but this chain was set in motion “largely by the deliberate actions of Israeli pilots.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that supplying S-300s to Syria is Russia’s “right” and voiced confidence that this would not hurt Russian ties with Israel.