Backblog: Russia Delivers Missiles to Syria

Over the course of the last week, I was engaged in helping put on a Model United Nations conference for high school students. I’ve been with the group for over seven years now, serve on their Board of Directors, and love it to death. But it also means that for about five days every year, I’m almost utterly cut off from the daily news. So when I was actually able to take a second and skim the international section, I was able to take note of what I saw as an interesting development. Unfortunately, while I was able to jot it down, I wasn’t able to find time to post my thoughts. So here they are, slightly edited. Afterwards, I’ll throw in my two cents on some more recent developments since I wrote this piece last Thursday.

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The Russian Federation announced today that it has followed through with a previous sale of supersonic cruise missiles to the Syrian Arab Republic. The deal, which was completed in 2007 to the tune of $300M, provides 72 Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. From the AFP article:

“The missiles, which operate as part of the Bastion mobile coastal defence system, will be able to protect Syria’s entire coast against a possible attack from the sea. Each Bastion system is equipped with 36 cruise missiles as well as truck-mounted radar and other equipment.”

The United States and other Western governments have been pushing Russia to cut ties with the al-Assad regime, particularly in light of the recently released report on Syrian human rights abuses presented to the UN Human Rights Council. Rather than withdrawing support, Moscow has seemed to move closer instead to Damascus.

While the sale was completed before the current uprising began, the delivery of the missiles themselves to Syria is a crucial show of support to the government in Damascus. A cancellation of the sale would have indicated a wavering in Russia’s stance, an opening which would be seized upon the UN Security Council by Western powers seeking to mirror Arab League sanctions on Syria. Instead, a veto of any strong action against Syria seems more likely than ever.

Further, the delivery of anti-ship missiles can and should be read in the same light as Russia’s deployment of warships off the coast of Syria: a deterrent against intervention. Turkey is reportedly if not moving to take unilateral action against Syria should the crackdown against protestors not cease, at least considering such a move if Ankara deems it absolutely necessary. A Russian threat to back Syria in defending its borders would cause any power to hesitate in launching a humanitarian intervention.

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Since then, Syria has offered to accept the observer mission the Arab League previously mandated inside its borders, on the condition that the sanctions regime imposed upon it be lifted. Much to the Arab League’s credit, the offer has been strongly rebuffed so long as the crackdown continues. Simultaneously, Syria has conducted live-fire exercises of several of its missile systems, in a move that was surely intended to deter Western governments from considering intervention, much in the same manner as the Russian ships’ presence. The Arab League’s steadfastness gives hope of swaying China into the abstention column on the Security Council in the coming weeks, but my pessimism on Russia remains, as will be made clearer in a forthcoming post.

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