Fresh back from a five-day trip to China, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is
expected to make a lightning visit to Russia this week, government officials
confirmed Saturday night, amid concerns Russia may deliver advanced air defense
missiles to Syria.
Netanyahu is expected to meet Russian President
Vladimir Putin at his residence at Sochi, on the Black Sea Coast.
exact date for the meeting has yet been given. Netanyahu spoke with Putin from
China last Monday.
The Wall Street Journal
reported on Wednesday that
Israel had informed the United States that a Russian deal was imminent to sell
S-300 advanced ground-to-air missiles to Syria. The threat of such a sale is
believed by some to be a Russian effort to deter the West from either
intervening in the Syrian civil war or to sell arms to the Syrian
Russia is Syrian President Bashar Assad’s main international
backer, outside of Iran.
The Russian news agency RIA Novostoi reported
that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had no plans to supply
Syria with weapons beyond current contracts that Moscow is
According to the Wall Street Journal
, Israel told the US that
Syria was making payments on a 2010 agreement with Moscow to buy four batteries
for $900 million. The report said the package included six launchers and 144
operational missiles, each with a range of 200 kilometers, with an initial
shipment expected in the next three months.
Over the last decade Israel
has urged the Russians on numerous occasions not to sell “game-changing” weapons
systems either to Iran or Syria.
Some five years ago, during a visit to
Russia by then prime minister Ehud Olmert, Moscow pledged not to sell weapons in
the region that would “tip the strategic balance.” And, indeed, in 2010 the
Russians backed away from delivering S-300 missile batteries to Iran, despite a
contract the two countries signed in 2007.
The S-300 is one of the most
advanced multi-target anti-aircraft missile systems in the world, and has a
reported ability to track up to 100 targets simultaneously while engaging up to
12. The S-300 system was first deployed by the USSR in 1979 and was designed to
defend large industrial and administrative facilities and military bases, and to
control airspace against enemy aircraft. It has a range of about 200 km. and can
hit targets – including incoming missiles – at altitudes of 27,000
Netanyahu has not been to Russia since 2010, though Putin visited
here in June 2012, shortly after being elected president again a month earlier.
Putin invited Netanyahu to visit Russia in a letter of congratulations sent to
Netanyahu for forming a new government and delivered just hours before US
President Barack Obama arrived in Jerusalem in March.
On Thursday, US
Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington did not want Russia to sell
weapons to Syria and has opposed transfers of missile systems to the country in
the past because of the threat to Israel.
“I think we have made it
crystal clear we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance,” Kerry
said at a news conference after meeting Italian Foreign Minister Emma
Pressed about the report about an imminent sale of the S-300s,
Kerry suggested he may have raised the issue with Putin and Lavrov, whom he met
in Moscow on Tuesday. After those meetings, the two countries agreed to seek new
peace talks to end the Syrian civil war.
“I had my say with President
Putin and I had my say with Sergey Lavrov and we made an agreement to go to a
negotiation in the next days and I am not going to get into here, now, at this
moment, as I said, distinguishing features between one country’s aid and another
country’s aid and who’s doing what,” Kerry said.
“That would be
counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish,” he added.Reuters
and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.