Putin Tours New Production Hub for Missiles Withheld From Syria

President Vladimir Putin toured a new production hub for components of the surface-to-air missile systems that Syria has ordered and that Russia is withholding under international pressure.

Putin oversaw demonstrations today of the new-generation S-400 system, which isn’t for export, and a modernized version of the S-300 that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seeking, at the Obukhovsky facility on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, his hometown.

The 20 billion-ruble ($620 million) facility, run by state weapons manufacturer OAO Air Defense Concern Almaz-Antei, is due to be completed by 2015 and is being financed mostly by state-run VTB Group, Russia’s second-largest lender, according to a government fact sheet.

Russia is also developing an S-500 variant to guard against threats from “near space,” Putin said after visiting an assembly line and testing hall adorned with posters with the slogan, “High Technologies Guard the Peaceful Sky.”

The S-300 is a long-range surface-to-air missile, first deployed by the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. It can engage 12 targets simultaneously at ranges of as long as 200 kilometers (124 miles). The U.S. has told Russia that sales of advanced missile systems to Syria would be “destabilizing” for Israel’s security, Secretary of State John Kerry said in Rome on May 9.

Tel Aviv

Israel considers the S-300 an offensive weapon because Syria could use it against airplanes over Tel Aviv, Minister of International Relations Yuval Steinitz said May 28.

Assad expressed confidence that all arms agreements between Syria and Russia will be honored, in an interview broadcast May 30 by Hezbollah’s Al Manar television. Putin has said that Russia hasn’t delivered the S-300s to Syria to avoid upsetting the regional balance of power.

“It’s perhaps the best such weapon in the world,” Putin said at a briefing with European Commission head Jose Barroso and European Union President Herman Van Rompuy in the Urals regional capital of Yekaterinburg on June 4. “We don’t want to alter the balance in the region. The contract was signed several years ago. It hasn’t yet been fulfilled.”

Still, Putin hasn’t ruled out signing new arms contracts with Syria, where the United Nations estimates that about 80,000 people have died in civil war.

“We supply arms under legal contracts to legitimate governments,” Putin said at the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland yesterday. “This is President Assad’s government. If we will sign such contracts, we will deliver.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, Putin and the other G-8 leaders agreed on a statement backing the establishment of a transitional government in Syria as quickly as possible, stopping short of calling for Assad’s ouster.