Russia has moved the S-400 (Growler) air defense missile systems to its airbase near Latakia in Syria after Turkey had shot down a Russian Su-24 bomber, the official Russian news agency TASS reported. The S-400 systems “will ensure the safety of the Russian air group’s flights and will destroy any targets posing a threat to it,” according to TASS. Also, as of this week, Russian aircraft and helicopters on combat missions will be accompanied by fighter jets and covered by aerial electronic warfare systems.
The Pentagon is concerned that the Russian missile systems may complicate the situation in the sky over Syria, stating that the US expects these systems will not be aimed at aircraft belonging to the US-led coalition. The statement was met with a sarcastic response from Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov, who said, “We were confident until Tuesday that our planes destroying Islamic State facilities were guaranteed against attacks from the so-called US-led anti-IS coalition.” He was referring to the fact that Turkey is a bona fide member of NATO.
“Now all the northern provinces in Syria bordering on Turkey, as well as the north-eastern provinces bordering on Iraq are tracked by our [S-400] system and targets can be hit at a depth of up to [200 miles],” military expert and editor-in-chief of the Arsenal of the Fatherland journal Viktor Murakhovsky told TASS, adding with a tone reminiscent of what a sleeping bear must sound like after being poked with a stick: “Therefore, as it turns out, with the deployment of the S-400 at the Khmeimim airbase, the territory of Turkey is visible within the distance of about [220-250 miles] while fire can be delivered at a distance of about [125-155 miles] in depth.”
“Turkey has itself to blame for creating such a situation when now its plane may be shot down if they enter Syrian airspace even for a second. Now the [S-400] system will track all Turkish warplanes approaching the border. The S-400 is a sword of Damocles that will hang over the heads of potential intruders,” the expert added.
Damocles, a courtier under Dionysius II, a 4th-century BCE tyrant in Syracuse, Sicily, was pandering to his king, saying he was truly fortunate as a great man of power and authority. Dionysius then offered to switch places with Damocles so that the latter could taste that fortune firsthand. Damocles eagerly accepted the king’s proposal and sat down in the king’s throne surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysius had arranged that a giant sword hang above the throne, held by a single hair of a horse’s tail. Damocles finally begged the king that he be allowed to depart because he no longer wanted to be so fortunate. The tale conveys the sense of constant fear in which a great man lives.
Last Thursday, the Israeli Air Force concluded its second annual exercise, which stressed that when it comes to Russia, Israel will try its best to avoid friction, despite the increasing Russian military presence in neighboring Syria. According to a senior officer, the IDF has forged a clear policy of never downing a Russian plane, even if it has entered Israeli territory.
Both the Pentagon and Israel are afraid of the Syrian civil war potentially developing into a global conflict. But Regional Security Sector Head at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies Igor Nikolaichuk believes that the S-400 will be a deterrence, signaling to NATO members: “Don’t step in and don’t try to shoot down our planes.” In his view, “The Americans’ fears are completely unfounded and are only an element of political pressure. Modern technical capabilities and specialists’ qualification give a possibility actually to exclude an incidental downing of planes.”
If anyone out there has been missing the good old days of the Cold War — it appears they never completely went away.