Analysis: Deployment of S-300 to Syria signals surge in Russia-US tensions

Washington and the West have looked on as pro-Assad ground troops have begun amassing in the thousands around Aleppo.

S-300 anti-aircraft missile (photo credit: REUTERS)
S-300 anti-aircraft missile
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tension between the US and Russia over recent events in Syria have escalated rapidly in recent days, casting a new shadow over regional, and to some extent, global security.
A Fox News report on Tuesday cited American officials as saying that Russia deployed its advanced S-300VM surface-to- air missile system to Syria.
The deployment appears to be a clear signal to Washington, aimed at dissuading it from taking military action against the Assad regime.
US slams Russian "barbarism" in Syria
Since entering the Syrian conflict, Russia’s goal has been to preserve the existence of its ally, the Alawite Assad government, and assist it in fighting a myriad of Sunni rebels. The US-led coalition’s goal has, until now, been aimed at targeting the jihadists of ISIS and the Nusra Front. For a while, these two coalitions were able to pursue their goals in the crowded Syrian arena and prevent conflict between them.
Now, things may be changing, and as a result, tensions between the two global powers are on the rise.
In recent days, the US walked away from cease-fire attempts with Russia, after watching with despair the carnage and misery inflicted on Aleppo by Syrian and Russian warplanes.
Since the collapse of the cease-fire, the Russian-led coalition, which includes Hezbollah and Iranian elements, has made gains in Aleppo. Washington and the West have looked on as pro-Assad ground troops have begun amassing in the thousands around Syria’s largest city, a portion of which is under rebel control.
Western media reports have been filled with harrowing images of civilian casualties from Aleppo, and pressure has been growing on the Obama administration to take bolder action in light of the futility of diplomacy.
It remains highly unclear whether those factors are sufficient to facilitate a dramatic change in direction from President Barack Obama, who has thus far evaded every opportunity the US has had to target the Assad regime. With just four months left in office, Obama remains reluctant to involve the US in another Middle Eastern war, on top of current anti-ISIS air operations.
It appears as if President Vladimir Putin does not wish to wait and see what Obama’s decision will be, sending an aggressive preemptive signal by deploying the S-300VM, which is designed to shoot down ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, aircraft and other aerial platforms. It joins Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air system, which was deployed by Russia to the Hmeimim airbase, on Syria’s northern coastline, in December 2015.
This system enables Moscow to shoot down aircraft within 400 kilometers.
These systems give Russia an anti-access ability, meaning that it can challenge aircraft and missile movements through Syrian airspace and use that formidable technology to defend not only Russian forces, but also, if needed, the Assad regime from US attack.
Israel, for its part, will be monitoring events closely, and keeping a low profile. It has maintained good working relations with Russia, and has a firm anti-conflict mechanism in place, meaning that Israel has been able to pursue its red lines in Syria, aimed at stopping Iran and Hezbollah from trafficking weapons to Lebanon, or setting up terrorist bases in southern Syria.