Russia is deploying its most advanced missile defense system to Syria, likely to deter any U.S. plans to increase strikes on non-Islamic State targets.
“Nusra doesn’t have an air force do they?” one U.S. official sarcastically told Fox News when asked who the system was meant to deter. Nusra is a reference to al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, who Russia often says they target. The official’s comment implies the U.S. believes Russia’s deployment is meant to constrain U.S. options in Syria.
The U.S. Department of State cut off all bilateral relations with Russia over Syria Monday, after Russia refused to stop indiscriminately bombing the city of Aleppo on behalf of the Assad regime. U.S. defense officials confirmed Russia will be able to thwart any potential U.S. cruise missile strikes in Syria with the new system.
When President Barack Obama considered striking the Assad regime for chemical weapons use in 2013, the U.S. military’s strike plans relied heavily on cruise missiles. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has signaled a willingness to employ a no-fly zone in Syria if elected president. Obama and military leaders frequently point out that establishing a no-fly zone requires the U.S. to wipe out Assad and Russia’s air defense capabilities in Syria, to ensure the safety of U.S. aircraft.
“For us to control all of the airspace in Syria it would require us to go to war, against Syria and Russia,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told Congress Sept. 26. Dunford continued, “That’s a pretty fundamental decision that certainly I’m not going to make.”
Russia deployed its S-400 aerial defense system to Syria after Turkey shot down a Russian jet that strayed into its airspace in November 2015. The S-400’s range extends over several other countries in the Middle East, threatening several critical U.S and NATO allies. The purpose of the deployment was to limit the U.S. anti-ISIS coalition’s options in Syria, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed to BBC in December 2015.