Two weeks past, I questioned the validity of a no-fly zone over Syria as a means of calming the violence and bringing both sides to a negotiating table. Since then, the odds of Western involvement remains far from reality, though not impossible. However, Syria seems to be taking these threats seriously, acquiring advanced anti-ship cruise missiles from Russia in a daring show of force to any potentially intrusive nation. Russia, similarly, seems to be straining its relationship with the West by supporting Assad's regime.
Russian P-800 "Yakhont" cruise missiles were first ordered in 2007 by Syria, with the first shipments arriving in 2011. Overall, 72 missiles, and 36 launcher vehicles, are to be acquired. Each battery, consisting of missile launchers supported by a command and control vehicle, is mobile and, therefore, harder to detect, counter, or destroy. Each missile poses a significant threat, armed with a 440 pound warhead, flying around 2.5 timesx the speed of sound, and capable of striking targets up to 185 miles. These missiles are specifically designed to target ships in spite of their air defencse systems or electronic countermeasures.
Weapons of this nature would pose a significant threat to any attempt at controlling Syrian waters, such as blockades or amphibious operations, but it is questionable how effective they would be at preventing efforts such as no-fly zones or air strikes from carriers further out to sea. Overall, the acquisition and brandishing of these weapons leaves little doubt as to the Syrian government's stance on external involvement.
Similarly, it's one further sign of Russia's stance on this conflict. Most recently, Russia stood by the Syrian government in the wake of allegations of chemical warfare in Aleppo, supporting their decision to refuse United Nations investigations, and likening the situation to pre-invasion Iraq. Russia has also prevented three separate UN Security Council resolutions against Syria, while at the same time continuing to provide the country with arms. Officially, however, Russia's continuing arms sales to Syria are in accordance with contracts made before the conflict began, though the arms sales seem calculated to support the government as much as they prevent external involvement. According to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the anti-ship missiles will "prolong the suffering" as they buttress the Assad regime.
Meanwhile, the Syrian civil war seems to be favoring the Syrian government, as the rebel forces are fracturing in the wake of recent counter-attacks. Both sides continue to commit numerous war crimes and atrocities, in the first war featuring widespread cell phone cameras and international reach through the Internet.