Moscow, Beirut, Riyadh- Russian sources uncovered a plan to enhance the Russian military presence in Syria to provide the Bashar Assad regime with air-defenses and anti-submarine systems, following an announcement of a deal to transform the port city of Tartus into a permanent Russian fleet base and to deploy Russian S-300 air-defense systems in Syria to protect the Russian forces there.
The Russian decision to enhance its defense system in the region reveals that Moscow is in a rush to take unprecedented steps and measures in the Middle East, and particularly in Syria.
Citing a military diplomatic source, Russian newspaper Izvestia said that Moscow was now studying the possibility of sending to Syria a Pantsir anti-aircraft system to ramp up its air defense.
The source said that the anti-aircraft deal was made a few years ago but was not completely executed when Damascus failed to complete the payment to Moscow. However, Russia has now decided to hand over the Syrian regime with the rest of the weapons without asking Damascus to immediately pay.
In 2008, Moscow and Damascus had inked the deal allowing Moscow to provide the Syrian forces with artillery batteries and 700 Panstir missiles. The cost of the deal reached $730 million.
A few days ago, the Russian Defense Ministry announced it has deployed Russian S-300 air-defense systems in Syria and a deal to transform the Russian Tartus base into a permanent fleet base.
Russian sources said that 10 missile ships equipped with anti-submarine defenses and artillery batteries would be deployed in Syria, in addition to a large number of Russian officers and soldiers.
But the Russian plan in Syria might not be restricted to the Hmeymim and the Tartus bases. Mario Abou Zeid, a research analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Moscow is planning to establish a bigger base and an airport in Syria, including a base for drones, which would enable Russia to further enlarge its mission and to deploy along the entire Syrian territories.”
On Tuesday, the Syrian opposition had denounced Russia’s decision to establish a permanent base in the Tartus port.
“This would consolidate the Russian envision of the Syrian territories,” a commander at the Free Syrian Army General Ahmed Rahal told Asharq Al-Awsat. “Bashar Assad is now paying the price of the Russian veto at the Security Council, the same way he had paid the price of the Russian air assaults in Aleppo,” Rahal said.
Last week, the U.N. Security Council failed to pass a French draft resolution after Moscow foiled the Paris proposal that demanded an end to the bombings on Aleppo.
However, the Syrian opposition would present on Thursday a plan to the U.N. requesting an emergency General Assembly session to annul the latest Russian veto against the Paris text.
The opposition also wants to activate the last U.N. resolutions supporting a political solution in Syria.