Russia is deploying lethal and long-range anti-aircraft defenses in an air base on the coast of Syria, which could disrupt and complicate the military operations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in the country.
A report from the Breaking Defense indicated that Russia is building its air defenses to prevent Western forces from entering key regions including the Baltics, the Black Sea, and the Levant.
Russia air defense systems in Syria is not about ISIL
NATO top commander General Philip Breedlove said the flow of armed forces from Russia into Syria did not look like a counter-terrorism measure. Russian President Vladimir Putin said fighting the Islamic State was his top priority in Syria.
“These very sophisticated air defense capabilities are not about ISIL,” said General Breedlove despite the stated priorities of Putin in Syria. He explained that the terrorist group has no air force.
According to him, Russia is setting up air defense systems with strong capabilities in Syria because Putin’s real top priority is to protect Russian access to airfields and warm water seaports in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its second priority is to protect the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Fighting the Islamic State is Russia’s third priority to legitimize its approach in Syria.
General Breedlove likened the Russian forces in Syria to the first pieces of a layered “anti-access/area denial” system that could cause difficulties for the US and NATO allies in their military operation in the country and beyond.
“The anti-access/area denial or A2/AD is a growing problem,” said General Breedlove on Monday afternoon before the meeting between President Barack Obama and Putin on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
General Breedlove is the Commander of the US European Command, and the 17th Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO Allied Command Operations.
NATO concerned about Russia’s A2/AD in the Eastern Mediterranean
General Breedlove said they were seeing capable air defense systems being set up in Syria. According to him, NATO allies are “a little worried” about the deployment of another A2/AD bubble in the Eastern Mediterranean.
He said they are seeing several sophisticated air defenses and air-to-air [fighter] aircraft going into the Syrian and Eastern Mediterranean airfields.
The NATO top commander noted that Russia currently has an A2/AD bubble located in Kaliningrad. Gen. Breedlove said, “Kaliningrad is a large platform for A2/AD capability.” His subordinates, Gen. Frank Gorenc and Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges recently warned that the missiles based in Kaliningrad can reach the airspace of Poland and could shut down the NATO reinforcements to the Baltics amid a crisis.
Russian has deployed an A2/AD bubble in the Black Sea following its annexation of Crimea. General Breedlove said the Russian air defense capability in Crimea was “very strong.” He said, “Essentially, their [anti-ship] cruise missiles range the entire Black Sea, and their air defense missiles range about 40 to 50 percent of the Black Sea.”
Putin called for international coalition to fight Islamic State
During his remarks at the UN General Assembly, Pres. Putin called for a “genuinely broad international coalition” to fight the Islamic State. According to him, the growth of the terrorist group posed a threat not just in the Middle East but to all nations including Russia.
He pointed out that the Islamic State is seeking to dominate the Islamic world after establishing a foothold in Syria and Iraq.
Putin said, “We cannot allow these criminals who have already tasted blood to return home and continue their evil doings.”
Meanwhile, Russian and Israel agreed to coordinate their military efforts against the Islamic State in Syria. The Israel Defense Forces (DF) and Russian military established a working group to coordinate all of their activities in Syria to prevent unintentional clashes.
Israel estimated that the Assad regime currenty controls 25% to 30% of Syria including Damascus and the Syrian coastline, the center of the minority Alawite that supports supports Assad.