Russian Arms Exporter Warns That Weapons Sold To Syria Are Highly Effective, Others Not So Sure

Russian arms exporter warns that the weapons systems that the Russians are selling to Syria are extremely effective.

According to Newser, the Russian firm Rosoboronexport has been selling missile defense systems to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria; for purely defensive purposes, of course. This follows a not-entirely-accurate accusation from Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that the Russians have been equipping the Syrians with attack helicopters. Still, the situation will probably come up when Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Barack Obama at the upcoming G20 summit.

With regard to the missile defense systems being sold, Rosoboronexport representative Anatoly P. Isaykin stated that the systems are so effective that while “this is not a threat…whoever is planning an attack should think about this.” Threat or not, things have gotten nasty enough in Syria lately that Newser reports the U.N. actually called off an upcoming mission because it’s “too dangerous,” citing a rise in violence over the past ten days. The leader of the mission, Norwegian General Robert Wood, stated that “This escalation is limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects—basically impeding our ability to carry out our mandate.”

According to the New York Times, the weapons shipped aren’t quite cutting edge but are certainly intended to shield Syria from naval or air attack from foreign powers (e.g., the United States) who try to intervene on the bloodshed that has plagued Syria since last year. In commenting about their effectiveness, the aforementioned Isaykin said in an interview that “…these mechanisms are really a good means of defense, a reliable defense against attacks from the air or sea.”

Given the not so state of the art nature of the weapons sent to Syria, Isaykin’s words may not be so much an accurate assessment of Syria’s new defensive abilities as they are political posturing. Regarding Russia’s intention, Aleksander Golts, an independent military analyst in Moscow, said that the weapon sales are “undoubtedly” meant as a warning for the United States and other Western nations contemplating intervention in Syria. According to Golts, “Russia uses these statements as a form of deterrence in Syria…they show other countries that they are more likely to suffer losses.”

According to Ruslan Aliyev, an authority on military affairs at the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in Moscow, recent statements from Russia regarding its sales to Syria are primarily of a political nature. He notes that Moscow has refrained from selling Syria its most advanced missile defense technologies. In his words, “as far as I understand, Syria is not able to defend itself from NATO, just like it failed to defend its nuclear facility from Israel’s September 2007 airstrike…Russian armaments are unlikely to be significantly helpful, I’m afraid.”

Whatever the nature of these arms sales, the episode has demonstrated that it doesn’t take the Berlin Wall or Communism to strain relations between the United States and Russia; statements like those of Mr. Isaykin have served to chill the relationship between the U.S. and Russia as the G20 summit approaches.

It also goes to show that things probably won’t be settling down in Syria anytime too soon.