Russian diplomats have said that Moscow will give the Syrian government long-range S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to help it defend itself from foreign intervention.
The move comes as Britain and France forced the lifting of a European Union (EU) arms embargo on Syrian rebels. Both sides have criticized the actions of the other, amid fears that these new developments could fuel a dangerous escalation in the already deadly conflict.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said that giving the missiles to Syria will help prevent "hotheads from escalating the conflict to the international scale."
Russia has always maintained its right to supply weapons to the Syrian government, and while it has not said whether deliveries of the missiles have begun, it has insisted that it will not back down in the face of Western and Israeli criticism. Israel is concerned that the missiles will be used to attack Israel itself, and Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon sounded a warning saying, "I hope they [the missile shipments] will not leave, and if, God forbid, they reach Syria, we will know what to do."
In the face of strong European opposition, with 25 of the 27 countries in the EU opposing the lifting of the arms embargo, Britain and France now say that they could start supplying arms to the rebels now, if they wanted. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has argued that arming "moderate" rebels would lead to less violence in Syria. Both Britain and France, however, say that they still want to find a political solution to the conflict and that the lifting of the arms embargo does not necessarily mean that they will begin arming rebels now.
Russia has criticized the actions of Britain and France, arguing that the lifting of the embargo has dealt a blow to the prospects of a peaceful solution, while Britain has in turn criticized Russia's actions as not helping the situation. And in a sense they are both right. As University of Michigan professor of history, Juan Cole, argues, "it [the conflict in Syria] is a horrible situation. It breaks our hearts every day. But here as in medicine, the first rule has to be to do no harm, to avoid making things worse. It would be very, very easy to make things worse."
Yet rather than doing no harm, Russia's plans to send the missiles to the Syrian government, and Britain and France opening the possibility of arming the rebels, both increase the risk of further escalating the conflict and making it even more deadly.