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War in Syria: Russia’s ‘rustbucket’ military delivers a hi-tech shock to West and Israel

As the Kremlin showcases its military capabilities in Syria, Kim Sengupta says Nato leaders are having to reassess


Their army’s equipment and strategy was “outmoded”; their air force’s bombs and missiles were “more dumb than smart”; their navy was “more rust than ready”. For decades, this was Western military leaders’ view, steeped in condescension, of their Russian counterparts. What they have seen in Syria and Ukraine has come as a shock.

Russian military jets have, at times, been carrying out more sorties in a day in Syria than the US-led coalition has done in a month. The Russian navy has launched ballistic missiles from the Caspian Sea 900 miles way, and kept supply lines going to Syria. The air defences installed by the Russians in Syria and eastern Ukraine would make it extremely hazardous for the West to carry out strikes against the Assad regime or Ukrainian separatists.

Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commander of the US army in Europe, has described Russian advances in electronic warfare in Syria and Ukraine – a field in which they were typically supposed to be backward – as “eye watering”.

Russia: Russian Tu-22M3 bomber takes aim at IS positions near Deir-ez-Zor

The chief of US Air Force operations in Europe and Africa, Lieutenant General Frank Gorenc, has disclosed that Moscow is now deploying anti-aircraft systems in Crimea, which the Kremlin annexed from Ukraine last year, and in Kaliningrad, an enclave between Lithuania and Poland. It is doing so, he says, in a way that makes it “very, very difficult” for Nato planes to gain access safely to areas including parts of Poland.

It is not just Nato member states watching the Russians with concern. Israel, too, sees the build-up of Russian weaponry across its northern border in Syria and wonders where it will all end. Their apprehension is that the advanced equipment already in situ in the Middle East will end up with Iran, viewed as an existential threat to the Jewish state, or with other Arab countries, thus eroding the air superiority that is Israel’s primary advantage over its neighbours.

It is this military might that is underpinning President Vladimir Putin’s strategic triumphs. His intervention in Syria has been a game changer and what happens there now lies, to a large extent, in his hands. The Ukraine


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