Russia says it has delivered S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria, despite objections from Israel and the United States that the weapons will escalate the war in the Middle Eastern country.
“The work was finished a day ago,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin during an Oct. 2, 2018 meeting broadcast on state-run Rossia-24 television.
Shoigu said that Russia delivered four S-300 launchers along with radars and support vehicles.
Speaking during a Security Council meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin, he said it will take three months to train Syrian personnel to operate the system.
He repeated Russian statements that the purpose of the delivery was to protect Russian military personnel in Syria, where 15 Russian servicemen were killed when Syrian forces shot their reconnaissance plane down on Sept. 17, 2018.
Putin ordered the military to supply the missiles to Syria after the downing that Russia blamed partly on Israel, which was staging air raids on Iranian targets in Syria at the time.
An Ilyushin Il-20M reconnaissance plane.
The Russian Defense Ministry accused Israeli warplanes of using the Russian aircraft as a cover to dodge Syria’s existing, Russian-provided defense systems.
Israel voiced regret afterward, but blamed Syrian incompetence for the incident and said it would continue bombing Iranian military targets in Syria.
“We have not changed our strategic line on Iran,” Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said on Oct. 2, 2018.
“We will not allow Iran to open up a third front against us. We will take actions as required,” he told Israel Radio.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said she could not confirm that Russia had delivered the systems but added, “I hope that they did not.”
“That would be, I think, sort of a serious escalation in concerns and issues going on in Syria,” she said at a briefing.
Shoigu at the meeting in Moscow also said the Russian military has added equipment in Syria for “radio-electronic warfare” and now can monitor the airspace in the area used for strikes on Syrian soil.
S-300 anti-aircraft missile system.
(Photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)
Along with upgrading Syria’s missile defenses, Moscow announced that Russia would begin jamming the radars of hostile warplanes in regions near Syria, including over the Mediterranean Sea, to prevent further incidents that could cause harm to its troops.
A Russian lawmaker said that 112 Russian military personnel have been killed so far in Syria since it stepped up its involvement in the war in 2105, launching a campaign of air strikes and bolstering its military presence on the ground.
Russian and Iranian military support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been critical in helping turn the tide of the war in his favor.
Over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which began with a government crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011, and millions more driven from their homes.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.