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Putin sends killer missiles to Assad

Russia has sent advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria, a move that illustrates the depth of its support for the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, American officials said on Thursday.

Russia has previously provided a version of the missiles, called Yakhonts, to Syria. However, those delivered recently are outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective, according to American officials who are familiar with classified intelligence reports and would only discuss the shipment on the basis of anonymity.

Unlike Scud and other longer-range surface-to-surface missiles that the Assad government has used against opposition forces, the Yakhont anti-ship missile system provides the Syrian military a formidable weapon to counter any effort by international forces to reinforce Syrian opposition fighters by imposing a naval embargo, establishing a no-fly zone or carrying out limited airstrikes.

‘It enables the regime to deter foreign forces looking to supply the opposition from the sea, or from undertaking a more active role if a no-fly zone or shipping embargo were to be declared at some point,’ said Nick Brown, editor in chief of IHS Jane’s International Defense Review. ‘It’s a real ship killer.’

Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official, said Syria’s strengthened arsenal would ‘tend to push western or allied naval activity further off the coast’ and was also ‘a signal of the Russian commitment to the Syrian government.’

The disclosure of the delivery comes as Russia and the United States are planning to convene an international conference that is aimed at ending the brutal conflict in Syria, which has killed more than 70,000. That conference is expected to be held in early June and to include representatives of the Assad government and the Syrian opposition.
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