Remember when Russia was supposedly reducing its footprint in Syria over the summer? Remember how President Obama and his choir sang of a time Putin was going to regret getting involved—how it would be Russia’s next Afghanistan? Well, Reuters reports that Russia has engaged in a major arms build-up in Syria over just the past week:
Russia has built up its forces in Syria since a ceasefire collapsed in late September, sending in troops, planes and advanced missile systems, a Reuters analysis of publicly available tracking data shows.
The data points to a doubling of supply runs by air and sea compared to the nearly two-week period preceding the truce. It appears to be Russia’s biggest military deployment to Syria since President Vladimir Putin said in March he would pull out some of his country’s forces.
The increased manpower probably includes specialists to put into operation a newly delivered S-300 surface-to-air missile system, military analysts said.
The S-300 system will improve Russia’s ability to control air space in Syria, where Moscow’s forces support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and could be aimed at deterring tougher U.S. action, they said.
“The S-300 basically gives Russia the ability to declare a no-fly zone over Syria,” said Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London.
The news that Russia has the ability to declare a no-fly zone conveniently follows a Defense Ministry warning earlier this week that Moscow might shoot down coalition planes found to be attacking Assad’s assets. This Reuters report also comes on a day the United States has been furiously wagging its finger at Moscow. On Friday, the Obama Administration formally accused the Russians of using cyberattacks to “interfere with the U.S. election.” Hours earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry called for a war crimes probe into Russia’s behavior in Syria.
Has Lucy picked up the football so many times that even Charlie Brown knows better than to try and kick it again? Time will tell. But one thing is for sure: the United States can make all the angry pronouncements it wants, but no sane Middle East watcher thinks things are going Washington’s way. A year and one week into his invasion, Putin doesn’t seem to be having any regrets.