|(Illustration from en.citizendium.org)|
Russia plans setting up a missile base in Ain Diwar, northeast of the Syrian city of Aleppo, according to al-Manar, mouthpiece of Iran and Syria’s cat’s-paw Hezbollah.
Quoting unnamed Kurdish activists close to the Kurdistan Workers Party (better known as the PKK) as saying the intended facility would allow the Russian military to stare down at the early-warning radar station sited in southeast Turkey as part of NATO’s missile defense system in Europe.
Ain Diwar is a small town on the Tigris River in the northeast extremity of Syria. This is the heart of Syrian Kurdistan and right on the border with Turkey and Iraq.
The Saudi daily al-Hayat corroborates the news by pointing to Russian moves to step up military cooperation with Syria.
“The fact Mikhail Fradkov, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Office, accompanied Sergei Lavrov to Damascus was noteworthy,” it writes. Media reports suggest Fradkov, in his talks with Syria’s high brass, focused on Russia’s plans “to rehabilitate a listening post Moscow controlled during the Cold War era on Syria’s Mount Qassioun. The reports suggest Damascus also offered to host a new Russian base some 160 kilometers from the Syrian-Turkish border. Such a base would help Russia frustrate America’s missile shield facilities in Turkey.”
All this evokes last week’s remarks by Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov saying Russia's military leadership is closely watching the situation in and around Syria.
He told Rossiya 24 TV channel the situation was deteriorating and Russia "can't remain indifferent".
Antonov said Russia and Syria have close military-technical ties, and Russian specialists have been deployed at various military sites in that region. "I think the region is quite promising from the point of view of military cooperation," he said.
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Antonov also stressed Russia will continue exporting arms to Syria within the framework of international rules and norms. "As of today, there are no restrictions on our delivery of weapons," he said. "We must fulfill our obligations, and this is what we are doing."
In an earlier display of support for Syria's regime, Russia signed a $550 million deal to provide Syria with 36 Yak-130 advanced training jets that can also be used for ground-attack missions.
The deal for the combat trainers, signed in December, was revealed last month by the Russian business daily Kommersant, quoting sources close to the state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport.
It's not clear when the twin-engine Yak-130s will be delivered.
In December too, the Russian Interfax news agency reported Moscow had delivered 72 supersonic Yakhont SS-N-26 anti-ship cruise missiles to Damascus with two coastal-defense Bastion anti-ship systems.
Some five weeks ago, Russia's only operational aircraft carrier, the 43,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov, and other warships made a high-profile visit to the Syrian port of Tartus in a show of support for Assad.