The report from Moscow that Russia and Syria have signed an arms deal for the supply of 36 Yakovlev Yak-130 Mitten combat aircraft to Damascus will raise eyebrows. Yak-130 can perform light-combat and reconnaissance duties and can replicate many characteristics of 4+generation fighters as well as the fifth generation Sukhoi T-50. But it is not a match in air battles in the event of a western or Turkey-led military intervention in Syria. Russian analysts acknowledge the limitations of Yak-130.
So, why is Russia doing this? Four good reasons can be found. One, it is a sizable arms deal (550 million dollars) and obviously Russia keeps the Syrian market in view. Second, Russia is asserting its rejection of the west’s unilateralist sanctions regime against Syria, which lacks a UN mandate. Third, it is certainly a reiteration of support for the embattled Syrian regime at this point.
And, to stretch the argument a bit, it also suggests that in Moscow’s estimation, Syrian regime is not going to be overthrown anytime soon. Now, that’s a geopolitical gamble but it is worth taking because retaining Syria as a strategic partner in the Middle East is a high necessity for Russia. Finally, although Yak-130 is not F-16, it can make the foreign intervention, if it happens, a little more costly. Without doubt, Moscow is making a point to Washington and Beijing.
To the former, Moscow is underscoring its strong rejection of regime change in Syria and is flagging that any US-led intervention will have to be without a UN mandate. Again, Moscow is signalling its seriousness of purpose to Beijing with which it coordinates its diplomatic moves over the Syrian developments.
The timing of the disclosure in Moscow is interesting. The European Union foreign ministers agreed at a meeting today on a series of further “restrictive measures” against Syria. The EU already has in place an arms embargo on Syria. Again, on Monday, Damascus rejected an Arab League foreign ministers’ call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
– January 23, 2012