MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin's talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Russia today will focus on Syria, the Kremlin said, amid growing concerns that Moscow may soon provide Damascus with an advanced anti-aircraft weapon.
Israeli officials say Russia is on the verge of selling S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria and have asked Russia to stop supplying Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime with such "game-changing" weapons.
Despite the civil war in Syria, Russia has rejected Western demands to halt such sales, arguing that they haven't violated international law. The Russian arms deliveries have included air defense missiles and artillery systems, but Moscow has so far refrained from providing Damascus with the advanced S-300.
The powerful weapon has a range of up to 125 miles and the capability to track down and strike multiple targets simultaneously. It would mean a quantum leap in Syria's air defense capability and pose a challenge to any possible aerial campaign. Israel also fears that advanced Russian weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah, a key Syrian ally in neighboring Lebanon.
Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau accused Russia yesterday of destabilizing the Middle East by selling weapons to Assad's regime. "Anyone who provides weaponry to terror organizations is siding with terror," Landau said.
Speaking in Warsaw on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia was completing delivery of air defense systems to Syria under earlier signed contracts, but avoided specifying whether the S-300s are among them.
Igor Korotchenko, a former colonel on the Russian General Staff who now heads the Center for Analysis of Global Weapons Trade, said the decision on the S-300 delivery would have to be made by Putin himself.
"It may lead to a new round of confrontation with the West," he said. "It will have a serious impact on the balance of forces, depriving Israel of its air superiority."