In the wake of the European Union's vote late Monday to lift a ban on directly arming Western-backed "rebels," there is a mounting danger of wider war. Growing military tensions in the region are likewise threatening to turn a Syrian peace conference, ostensibly backed by both Washington and Moscow, into a dead letter. Dubbed "Geneva II," the conference is tentatively set to convene in mid-June.
On Tuesday, the Russian government condemned the EU for "throwing fuel on the fire" of Syria's sectarian civil war and announced that it is going ahead with the delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Syria.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a press conference in Moscow that the deployment of the advanced air defense batteries would serve as a "stabilizing factor" in the Syrian crisis by dissuading Western powers from launching direct military intervention.
The mobile, surface-to-air missile systems have been compared to the US Patriot and are capable of bringing down rockets as well as planes.
"We consider that such steps will restrain some hotheads from the possibility of giving this conflict, or from considering a scenario that would give this conflict, an international character with the participation of external forces," he said.
While the deployment of the missiles would complicate any imposition of a "no-fly zone," the action that began the US-NATO war for regime change in Libya, it is also directed against Israel, which has repeatedly carried out air strikes against Syria in the course of the two-year-old crisis. The latest of three known air strikes took place earlier this month and provoked an angry denunciation from Moscow, which is Syria's long-standing ally and biggest arms supplier.