Russia has sent sophisticated anti-ship missiles to Syria, US media report. Russia agreed to supply Syria with Yakhont missiles in a deal signed in 2007.
The New York Times quotes unnamed US officials as saying the missiles could be used to counter any potential future foreign military intervention in Syria.
Without confirming details, Russia’s foreign minister said Russian supplies did not break any international rules.
It comes amid growing alarm that chemical weapons may be being used in Syria, though many say this is propaganda by one or both sides in the conflict. The use of chemical weapons is something US President Barack Obama has said would be “a red line”.
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met Mr Lavrov in Sochi on Friday to discuss the plans for the conference, which would aim to bring together the Syrian opposition and members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
At a news briefing, Mr Ban said it was important to “not lose momentum” on the drive towards holding a peace conference and dates for it were being “actively discussed”.
Mr Lavrov said the way the conflict is resolved
“will largely determine not just the fate of Syria and the region itself, but also the global community’s future vector when it comes to responding to crises”.
Russia is one of Syria’s few remaining allies and its major arms suppliers. Over the years, in contracts worth billions of dollars, it has sold thousands of tanks, artillery units, aircraft, helicopters and defence systems to Damascus.
The initial order – for 72 missiles along with launcher and support vehicles – was placed in 2007 and the first deliveries received in early 2011, said the paper. It quotes two unnamed senior US defence officials as saying the most recent shipments had more advanced radar guidance systems, enabling it to evade a ship’s defences.
Sergei Lavrov said he did not understand “why the media is trying to create a sensation out of this”.
“We have not hidden that we supply weapons to Syria under signed contracts, without violating any international agreements, or our own legislation. And we most importantly supply an nti-aircraft system, and it doesn’t create any imbalance of power in the region or any kind of advantages in the fight against the opposition.”
Another US newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, reports that Moscow has deployed at least a dozen warships to patrol waters near the Russian naval base in the Syrian city of Tartus.
The paper quotes a senior US defence official as saying the deployment is a “show of force” by Moscow to demonstrate its commitment to the region.
Although there have been growing calls for arms to be channelled to the rebel fighters in Syria, there has so far been very limited enthusiasm in the West for outright military intervention.
But there is concern that the presence of sophisticated Russian-supplied weaponry will make it much harder to agree and carry out such intervention, implement a blockade or conduct targeted airstrikes in the future.
Nick Brown, editor-in-chief of the influential military journal Jane’s International Defence Review, said the Yakhont is:
“A real ship killer. It enables the regime to deter foreign forces looking to supply the opposition from the sea, or from undertaking a more active role if a no-fly zone or a shipping embargo were to be declared at some point” he told the Times.
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Contributed by Chris Carrington of The Daily Sheeple.
Chris Carrington is a writer, researcher and lecturer with a background in science, technology and environmental studies. Chris is an editor for The Daily Sheeple. Wake the flock up!