Russian defense insiders are asserting that Syria will not receive purchased S-300 air-defense systems until spring 2014 at the earliest, the London Guardian reported on Friday.
The information from Russian news reports conflicts with statements made earlier this week by Syrian President Bashar Assad, who asserted in an interview with a Hezbollah-affiliated news station that S-300 batteries were en route to his nation. Earlier provided excerpts from the interview had Assad saying explicitly that his military was already in possession of the first shipment of S-300 missiles.
The United States, Israel and other nations worry about Syrian possession of the sophisticated anti-aircraft technology that can also be used against some ballistic missiles. The technology could be used to counter any future Israeli airstrikes into Syria or U.S.-backed effort to establish a no-fly zone.
Moscow agreed in 2010 to provide Syria with six S-300 units no later than next spring, an anonymous defense insider told the Kommersant newspaper. A separate source said it would take the Syrian military a half-year to become proficient with the technology.
In the aired interview, Assad would not explicitly confirm whether any S-300 systems were in hand. He said: "Everything we agreed upon with Russia will be done; and a part (of those contracts) has already been completed lately," the Washington Post reported.
It is likely that Russia will send the various components that make up a S-300 unit in separate shipments, according to former Israeli Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Michael Herzog. "It would take many months for everything to arrive, and then they would have to assemble it."
A Russian defense sector insider reportedly said that a no-fly zone or new Israeli air assaults in Syria could prod Russia to hurry its delivery to Assad, according to Reuters reported. However, "the delivery of the S-300 to Syria could be frozen for a period of time" under the right circumstances, the source said in an Interfax report.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Friday said delivering the S-300s to Syria would undermine U.S.-Russian efforts to convene a conference aimed at helping to end the civil war, Reuters reported. Russia, which has issued similar criticism over the recent lifting of an European Union arms embargo to Syrian rebels, also intends to sell 10 MiG fighter aircraft to Assad, the Associated Press reported.
Assad said his government would participate in planned peace talks in Switzerland next month but that any negotiated agreement to end hostilities would have to be put to the Syrian people for a vote. Assad is not seen as having much inducement to sincerely negotiate as his forces have had several important military victories in recent weeks.
The leading opposition grouping, the Syrian National Coalition, has said it would not participate in the peace negotiations so long as fighters from Iran and Hezbollah continue their involvement on the side of the Assad regime.
Elsewhere, the Russian Foreign Ministry has voiced concern over unconfirmed reports that more than 12 members of the al-Nusra Front militia have been detained in Turkey while in possession of a quantity of sarin nerve agent, Interfax reported. Al-Nusra Front is fighting against Assad but has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States.