Russian S-300 missiles unlikely to reach Syria for months

MOSCOW Fri May 31, 2013 4:41pm IST

A security member loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gestures to a photographer in Damascus May 26, 2013. REUTERS/ Alaa Al-Marjani

A security member loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad gestures to a photographer in Damascus May 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/ Alaa Al-Marjani

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles will probably arrive in Syria only after several months, but more Israeli air strikes or the creation of a no-fly zone would speed up delivery, a Russian arms industry source said.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said it would fulfil an order for the long-range surface-to-air missiles to Syria as a deterrent against foreign military intervention.

And in a sign that Moscow Would fulfill other deals, the head of aircraft maker MiG was quoted as saying he was counting on providing Syria with at least 10 MiG-29 fighter planes.

"Regarding the deliveries of the S-300, they can begin no earlier than the autumn," the arms industry source told Interfax on Friday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

"Technically it's possible, but much will depend on how the situation develops in the region and the position of Western countries."

Without naming Israel specifically, Interfax paraphrased the source as saying: "Air attacks on Syria from the side of a neighbouring government or the introduction of a so-called no-fly zone above Syria may serve as a pretext for speeding up the deliveries of the S-300."

Yuri Ushakov, President Vladimir Putin's aide on foreign policy, said contracts must be met but that Russia does not supply arms "that would be subject to international sanctions".

RIA news agency quoted the head of MiG as saying that he was discussing terms for the fighter planes with a Syrian delegation in Moscow now. It did not say when delivery was expected.

Russia's S-300s can intercept manned aircraft and guided missiles and Western experts say they would enhance Assad's Russian-supplied arsenal of short-range Pantsir missiles and medium-range BUK missile systems.

Russian daily Vedomosti has reported that Assad bought four units of the modernised S-300PMU-2 system for nearly $1 billion.

A Defence Ministry source said Assad would use his other air defence systems to guard the S-300, giving him "pretty good" air defences.

Russia has been Assad's most powerful diplomatic ally in a conflict that has killed more than 80,000 people since March, 2011. Along with China, it has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end violence.

The Defence Ministry source said Syrian troops would need to be trained on the S-300 in Russia's southern province of Astrakhan.

Former Russian Air Force Commander General Anatoly Kornukov told Interfax that such training would need a minimum of two to four weeks depending on the diligence of the recipients.

The S-300s themselves would be ready for use "within five minutes after the delivery", he said.

The S-300 can track targets up to 300 km (190 miles) away and can hit at a range of up to 200 km, sparking Israeli fears that Assad's reach could extend well into the Jewish state and threaten flights over its main commercial airport near Tel Aviv.

A Western intelligence source has said that Israel has carried out strikes in Syria against what Western and Israeli officials say were weapons headed for Hezbollah militants.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove and Maria Tsvetkova, Editing by Elizabeth Piper and Alistair Lyon)

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