I’ve covered Russian arms exports to Syria on this blog before, but the CAST report has some useful new information on this topic. Barabanov and Aliev note that Russian arms exports to Syria were very limited until the restructuring of Soviet-era Syrian debt to Russia in 2005. Shortly after that, the two countries signed a series of arms contracts with a total value of 4.5 billion dollars. While these contracts were not publicized, available information indicates that they included the following:
- 8 MiG-31E interceptors. This contract was annulled in 2009, most likely because of Israeli objections. No aircraft were ever transferred.
- 12 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets, with an option for an additional 12. The first set of aircraft, and possibly all 12, are to be transferred towards the end of this year. No information is available on the option for an additional 12 aircraft.
- 8 battalions of Buk-M2E missile systems (total value $1 billion). Four were shipped in 2010-11, with the rest to be transferred by 2013.
- 12 battalions of S-125-2M Pechora-2M SAMs ($200 million). Four were shipped in 2011, and another four were shipped on the MV Alaed, which was recently forced to return to Russia after its insurance was cancelled.
- 36 Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile systems ($700 million). According to the CAST report, only 12 have been delivered so far. SIPRI, on the other hand, believes that all 36 have been delivered.
- 2 K-300-P Bastion coastal defense systems, armed with 36 Yakhont anti-ship missiles ($250 million). Contract completed in 2011.
- an unknown number of 9M123 Chrystanthemum self-propelled anti-tank missile systems. Most likely, none have been delivered to date.
- an unstated number of Igla-S surface to air missiles (200 according to SIPRI). Contract completed in 2010.
- modernization of 1000 T-72 tanks to T-72M1M level ($1 billion). Little work completed to date
There was another set of contracts completed in 2007-08 to modernize Syria’s air force. This included the following:
- 15 Su-24MK bombers. Work began in 2010. These are to be armed with Kh-31A anti-ship missiles, 87 of which were produced through 2010.
- unknown number of MiG-29 fighters to SM level. (24 according to a previous CAST report). First four completed in 2011.
- unknown number of MiG-23 fighters to MLD level. Seven completed through 2011.
- 20 Mi-25 combat helicopters. 17 delivered so far. Last three were supposed to be delivered on the MV Alaed earlier this month.
- 2 Ka-28 anti-submarine helicopters. Contract completed.
The most recent contract was completed in December 2011, for 36 Yak-130 trainer aircraft ($550 million). However, this contract has not yet been approved by the Russian government. To summarize, Russia has completed about $5.5 billion worth of military contracts with Syria since 2006, primarily for air force and air defense modernization. The report notes that despite prompt payment by the Syrian side, fulfillment of many of the contracts was dragged out (and in the case of the MiG-31s, cancelled) by the Russian government. So far, Syria has received only $1 billion worth of equipment from these contracts. The authors argue that Russia has been very cautious in selling arms to Syria, making sure that Western powers and especially Israel did not object to the equipment being provided. In particular, Russia has refused to sell Iskander ballistic missile systems and S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Syria. In other words, the report argues that Russia has valued its relationship with Western states and Israel more than the financial and political gains from selling more weapons to Syria. Furthermore, even if Assad’s government survives, it will not be able to afford to pay for more Russian weapons for the foreseeable future, limiting its role as a customer for the Russian defense industry.
Dmitry Gorenburg is a Senior Analyst at CNA blogging for PONARS Eurasia on military and security affairs in Russia and Eurasia. This comment is also available on Russian Military Reform.