Latest Information:
The Two-Way
4:34 pm
Fri May 31, 2013

U.S., Russia At Odds Over Moscow's Plan To Arm Syria

Originally published on Fri May 31, 2013 5:48 pm

Russian media has hinted that Moscow could speed up delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Syria if the U.S. and its allies decide to impose a no-fly zone to aid rebels there. Meanwhile, a Russian airplane maker says Syria is discussing the purchase of additional MiG-29 fighters.

A Russian arms industry source quoted by Interfax news agency says Moscow could hasten delivery of the S-300 to Syria, even though the missiles would still take months to arrive.

"Regarding the deliveries of the S-300, they can begin no earlier than the autumn," the source told Interfax. "Technically it's possible, but much will depend on how the situation develops in the region and the position of Western countries."

Reuters also reports that Moscow plans to fulfill a 2007 contract with Syria to deliver 10 MiG-29 fighters. The MiG aircraft maker says a deal is being discussed for the purchase of about 10 more of the fighter jets. Presumably such a contract would take months, perhaps years, to fulfill.

The talk of arms shipments to Damascas comes at an inopportune time. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have struggled to turn a new page in relations between the former Cold War rivals.

This week, Lavrov described as "odious" a U.S. co-sponsored resolution criticizing Syria at the United Nations Human Rights Council. He also said President Obama's hint that a no-fly zone might be considered had ruined the atmosphere for Syrian peace talks. Lavrov urged the U.S. to persuade Syrian opposition figures to drop demands for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Meanwhile, Kerry has criticized Russian's talk of arming the regime with advanced missiles that he says threaten Israel.

The S-300 missiles comprise Russia's top-of-the-line long-range air defense system, Robert Hewson, editor of IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, tells NPR.

"It is a feared and potentially very capable system so it adds a whole new layer of complexity to anyone who is planning to be flying over downtown Damascus," he says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.