US ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison warned Russia to immediately halt its covert development of a banned cruise missile system in Syria, or else, the United States will seek to destroy it before it becomes operational. The United States believes Russia is deploying surface-to-air systems in breach of a Cold War treaty that could allow Russia to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice. Nevertheless, Moscow consistently denies any such violation, asserting the deployment aims at protecting its military personnel. Hutchison underscored, however, that while Washington remained committed to a diplomatic solution, it would not allow Russia to violent its past treaties. To that end, the U.S. is prepared to consider a military strike if Russian development of the medium-range system continued.
Washington’s threat to Moscow came after the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed President Vladimir Putin that yesterday Moscow had completed the delivery of its S-300 surface-to-air missile systems in Syria. During a Russian cabinet meeting, the country’s top defense official stressed that activities aim to bolster Syria’s air defense systems, to protect Russian military personnel operating within the war-torn-country, have been accomplished. According to Shoigu, “We have embarked on a number of activities aimed at strengthening the air defense systems of the Syrian Arab Republic, aimed primarily at protecting our military personnel. We have completed the delivery of S-300 complexes. This includes 49 pieces of equipment: illuminating laser radio locators, defense priorities systems, control vehicles and four missile launchers. The work has been completed a day ago, we have delivered to Syria the whole system.” Minister Shoigu noted, however, that the Russian Defense Ministry has also started delivering a nation-wide system that connects Syria’s entire air defense network, for coordinating defensive responses against hostile elements. As part of the implementation of the system, Russia is currently training Syrian forces in operating the system, which effectively ‘narrows the gap of qualitative weaponry between Israel and Syria.’ The Russian Defense Minister said that “As for unified control system of entire air defense network, we have started delivering the equipment as well. We will have completed the task, including crew training and creation of a unified network by the 20th of October.” Shoigu further said that Syrian army troops would be able to run the nation-wide-defense-system within approximately three months.
While Israeli officials refrained from publicly commenting on Moscow’s announcement, the U.S. State Department voiced its concern, dubbing the Russian move as “a serious escalation.” That said, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert stressed that the U.S. could not confirm whether Russia had indeed concluded the transfer of the S-300 batteries to Syria.