Friday 19 October 2018

Russia to send newer missile defence systems to Syria after fatal plane incident

It comes after a Russian military aircraft was downed by Syrian government missile defence systems in a friendly fire incident last week.

The Russian plane which was accidentally downed by Syrian forces (Marina Lystseva/AP)
The Russian plane which was accidentally downed by Syrian forces (Marina Lystseva/AP)

By Nataliya Vasilyeva, Associated Press

Russia will supply the Syrian government with more modern missile defence systems following last week’s downing of a Russian plane by Syria.

The Russian military aircraft was downed by Syrian government missile defence systems, killing all 15 people on board, in a friendly fire incident which sent regional tensions over the war-torn country soaring.

Russia laid the blame squarely on Israel, saying Israeli fighter jets had pushed the Russian plane into the line of Syria’s fire.

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A computer simulation purports to show Israeli jets near to the Russian reconnaissance plane shown in red before it was accidentally shot down (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP)

Shortly before the downing, Israeli strikes had hit targets inside Syria, reportedly preventing an arms shipment going to the Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah group.

Russia launched its campaign in Syria to support President Bashar Assad in 2015, and though the involvement turned the tide of war in favour of Syrian government forces, Moscow has since tried to play a careful balancing act, maintaining good ties both with Iran and Israel.

For its part, Israel is wary of Iran’s growing influence in Syria, which is bringing its archenemy closer to its borders.

Last week’s downing has put Russia’s relationship with Israel to the test.

President Vladimir Putin initially struck a reconciliatory note, blaming the downing on a “chain of tragic, fatal circumstances”.

But the Russian military came out on Sunday renewing the accusations against Israel.

Russian officials said Syria’s outdated S-200 systems were not sophisticated enough to identify the Russian plane as a friendly one.

Monday’s statement from Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia will send the S-300 missile defence systems to Syria within the next two weeks.

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The Russian air defence system missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM (Ivan Sekretarev/AP)

Earlier in the war, Russia suspended a supply of S-300s, which Israel feared Syria could use against it.

Mr Shoigu said Russia is now going to go ahead with the shipment because “the situation has changed, and it’s not our fault”.

He also said that Russia would start to electronically jam aircraft flying in to attack targets in Syria.

“We are convinced that these measures will calm down some hotheads and keep them from careless actions which pose a threat to our troops,” Mr Shoigu said.

Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Russian news agencies that supplying S-300s to Syria is Russia’s “own right” and expressed confidence that this would not hurt ties with Israel.

The Kremlin said Russia’s decision was not targeted against anyone and only serves to protect Russian troops in Syria.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that recent findings by the Russian military showed an Israeli jet “deliberately” pushed the Russian Il-20 into the line of fire, enabling its downing.

The Trump administration warned Russia that supplying Syria with the advanced missile defence system would be a “major mistake” and should be reconsidered.

It also said US forces will not leave Syria until Iran leaves.

National security adviser John Bolton said that delivery of the Russian S-300 would be a “significant escalation” in already high tensions in the region.

Press Association

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