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Russian Arms to Syria Risk Miscalculation, Dempsey Says

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May 18 (Bloomberg) -- The top U.S. general said Russian deliveries of advanced anti-ship missiles and air-defense systems to Syria risk leading Bashar al-Assad’s regime to miscalculate its military power.

The shipments are “at the very least an unfortunate decision that will embolden the regime and prolong the suffering,” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference yesterday. “It’s ill-timed and very unfortunate.”

Any Russian weapons being sent to Syria are fulfilling commitments in previous contracts, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday after talks in Sochi, Russia, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Russia is completing contracts to supply S-300 air-defense missile batteries to Syria, according to a Kremlin official who asked not to be named discussing the arms sales. The S-300 missiles would bolster Syria’s defenses, complicating any effort by outside powers to enforce a no-fly zone over the country.

The improved air-defenses are “more capable, higher-altitude, have more range and pushes the standoff distance,” Dempsey said yesterday. “It increases the risk, but it’s not impossible to overcome.”

Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, told Congress last month that Russia was supplying Syria with a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile called the Yakhont, a weapon with a range of 300 kilometers (186 miles) that he said poses “a major threat to naval operations, particularly in the eastern Mediterranean.”

Kerry’s Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brought up weapons deliveries with Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit to Moscow last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at yesterday’s news conference. The goal was to underscore the common ground between the U.S. and Russia in avoiding an escalation that could lead to a broader Mideast conflagration, Hagel said.

Kerry has said the Obama administration is weighing options to expand aid to the Syrian rebels. Lawmakers such as Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, have called for enforcing a no-fly zone and arming the rebel forces. The administration has resisted providing arms, in part because the Syrian opposition includes militants with ties to al-Qaeda.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gopal Ratnam in Washington at gratnam1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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