Russia has beaten the United States to a key strategy in Syria with its new ability to create a no-fly zone, delivered by a new S-300 surface-to-air missile system, according to military analysts.
Word of the development comes in a report from Reuters, which cited its own analysis of “publicly available tracking data.”
That shows that Russia has been building up forces in Syria since last month when a ceasefire plan collapsed.
Among the benefits of the “increased manpower” likely are specialists to run the S-300 system, which will grant the country better “ability to control air space in Syrian where Moscow’s forces support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, and could be aimed at deterring tougher U.S. action.”
“The S-300 basically gives Russia the ability to declare a no-fly zone over Syria,” Justin Bronk, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told Reuters.
The report from Jack Stubbs and Maria Tsvetkova cited “data points” in explaining that there’s likely been a doubling of supply runs by air and sea, based on what was known to have been delivered in the time period just before the attempted ceasefire.
The missile system, Bronk said, “makes any U.S. attempt [to set up a no-fly zone] impossible. Russia can just say: ‘We’re going to continue to fly and anything that tries to threaten our aircraft will be seen as hostile and destroyed.”
The data was “collated by Turkish bloggers for their … Bosphorus Naval News project, and reviewed by Reuters,” the agency said. It reveals reinforcements sent via Russia’s “Syrian Express” shipping route from the Black Sea were suddenly higher.
Reuters said Russia did not respond to questions, and a senior air force official dismissed the idea.
But the report said 10 Russian navy ships were documented going through the Bosphorus toward Syria since late September. That’s up from five in a 13-day pre-truce period early in September.
“Some of the ships that have been sent to Syria were so heavily laden the load line was barely visible above the water, and have docked at Russia’s Tartus naval base in the Western Syrian province of Latakia. Reuters has not been able to establish what cargo they were carrying,” the report said.
But it cited the FlightRadar24.com information resource to suggest “troops and equipment” are also returning to Syria by air.”
Also, military cargo planes traveled from Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in Syria six times in six days of October, while during August and September there were only 12 in a month.
The report also cited details from Izvestia that a group of Su-24 and Su-34 warplanes had arrived at the Hmeymim base in Syria recently, returning Russia’s fixed-wing numbers in the country “to near the level before the drawdown was announced in March.”
The developments come just as the Independent reported Russia had launched a nationwide civil defense exercise to defend against an expected attack from the West.
“Schizophrenics from America are sharpening nuclear weapons for Moscow,” the Russian Defense Ministry warned.
The U.S. earlier cut off talks about Syria with Russia.
And it was reported that the U.S. has resumed training flights for nuclear-capable bombers on routes that approach Russia over the top of the world.
One recent sortie was Aug. 1. The trip included B-2 stealth bombers and both nuclear-capable and conventional bombers.
Hans Kristensen, the head of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, recently reported on the organization’s website: “Just a few years ago, U.S. nuclear bombers didn’t spend much time in Europe. They were focused on operations in the Middle East, Western Pacific, and Indian Ocean. Despite several years of souring relations and mounting evidence that the ‘reset’ with Russia had failed or certainly not taken off, NATO couldn’t make itself say in public that Russia gradually was becoming an adversary once again.”
But that changed when Vladimir Putin “sent his troops to invade Ukraine and annexed Crimea.”
“The act followed years of Russian efforts to coerce the Baltic States, growing and increasingly aggressive military operations around European countries, and explicit nuclear threats against NATO countries getting involved in the U.S. ballistic missile defense system.”
One result is, he explained, “a revitalization of a near-slumbering nuclear mission in Europe.”
He noted: “Six years ago the United States was this close to pulling its remaining non-strategic nuclear weapons out of Europe. Only an engrained NATO nuclear bureaucracy aided by the Obama administration’s lack of leadership prevented the withdrawal of the weapons. Russia has complained about them for years but now it seems very unlikely that the modernization of the F-35A with the B61-12 guided bomb can be stopped. The weapons might even get a more explicit role against Russia, although this is still a controversial issue for some NATO members.
“But the U.S. military would much prefer to base the nuclear portion of its extended deterrence mission in Europe on strategic bombers rather than the short-range fighter-bombers forward deployed there. The non-strategic nuclear weapons are far too controversial and vulnerable to the myriads of political views in the host countries. Strategic bombers are free of such constraints.”