Russia sent anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria

Russia sent anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria to back up its air campaign, the commander of the air force Viktor Bondarev said in an interview published Thursday.

“We sent there not just fighter planes, strike aircraft and helicopters but also anti-aircraft rocket systems,” Bondarev told Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid daily.

He said that Russia made the decision to bring missile systems to Syria because “we took into account every possible threat.”

“There could be various force majeur situations. Let’s imagine a military plane is hijacked and taken to a neighbouring country and air strikes are aimed at us. And we have to be ready for this.”

The defense ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.

Bondarev said Russia has “more than 50 planes and helicopters” in Syria, “precisely the number we need. At the moment, we do not need more.”

He said that a Russian jet that strayed into Turkish territory in October had done so because as it flew along the Turkish border in dense cloud “the equipment showed that some ground-based air defense systems were trying to capture the plane.

“Therefore the pilot had to make an anti-missile manoeuver. So he passed into the Turkish air a tiny bit. As we honestly admitted,” Bondarev said.

The defense ministry previously said only that the plane strayed into Turkish air space on October 3 because of bad weather conditions.

Turkey said the Russian aircraft exited its airspace after it was intercepted by two Turkish F-16 fighter jets.

NATO called the incident a “serious violation.”

The presence of Russian anti-aircraft batteries in Syria will likely cause concern in Israel, as well. The Jewish state has carried our several airstrikes against weapons convoys or depots destined for Hezbollah, although officials in Jerusalem have never confirmed the strikes.

However, given recent agreements between Israel and Russia to coordinate military activity over Syria the likelihood that such batteries would pose a threat to Israeli jets is minimal.