Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning to Israel against selling arms to Kiev – in retaliation for the S-300 air-defense missiles Russia has released for Iran – adds a European dimension to the dispute by planting Israel squarely in the middle of Moscow’s Ukraine dispute with the United States. The Russian leader’s implied threat to hit back by sending the same missile system to Syria as well as Iran, touches on another dispute between Russia on the one side and the US and Israel on the other, namely the Syria conflict.
Whereas critics of the Netanyahu government highlight its falling-out with the Obama administration over the Iranian nuclear issue, they disregard the intense US-Israeli military cooperation in two vital regions of conflict – Syria and Ukraine.
This working relationship is not lost on Putin.
The intelligence updates placed on his Kremlin desk reveal that, just as the US and Israel (and Jordan) have been arming rebel forces fighting in southern Syria, they are also working together to give the Ukrainian army the weapons for breaking its incendiary standoff with the pro-Russian separatists.
In the last fortnight, thousands of military advisers from the United States, Canada, France, the UK and Germany were shipped into Ukraine to train the national army. Due in the coming days are 290 officers and troops of the American 173 Airborne Brigade.
debkafile’s military sources disclose that the arrivals are gathering at the Ukrainian Army’s training center in Yavoriv, near Lvov, chosen as assembly point and launching pad for Western and NATO intervention forces in the Ukraine conflict because of its proximity to Poland.
The US and British air squadrons stationed there for some months are close enough to give the Yavoriv center air cover. Also at hand as reinforcements for the Ukrainian military effort are the US and British military personnel, who were posted to Poland after Russia’s annexation of Crimea last March, to allay the fears of the Baltic states.
Putin has repeatedly cautioned Washington that arming Kiev with US offensive weapons would bring forth matching Russian steps that would hurt US interests in Europe and other parts of the world.
He tried sending this warning through German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, as well as addressing it to Secretary of State John Kerry at his meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Moscow, said the warning message, would not spare US interests after what Putin sees as the Obama administration’s assaults on Russia’s national security, by means of NATO’s creeping absorption of Ukraine and offensive arms if provided by the US for Kiev’s campaign against pro-Russian separatists.
Lifting the embargo on S-300 air defense missiles for Iran was the Russian leader’s first step toward making good on his warning, but his reprisals are not likely to stop there.
The anti-air missiles have not yet been shipped to Iran, but if President Barack Obama forges ahead with expanded military assistance to the Ukraine government, Putin intends sending S-300s not just to Iran,but to Syria as well.
Saturday, April 18, the Russian president declined to say in answer to a question whether Moscow had refrained from sending S-300 missiles to Syria at Israel’s request. But he tellingly mentioned Syria in the same breath as his warning to Israel not to supply weapons to the Ukrainian government, saying that the move would be “counterproductive” to efforts to reach peace in east Ukraine.
In Washington earlier on Friday, Obama said he was surprised that Russia’s suspension of missile sales to Iran had “held this long.” The US president noted that Putin had previously suspended the sale “at our request. I am frankly surprised that it held this long, given that they were not prohibited by sanctions from selling these defensive weapons.”
The US president has chosen Ukraine as his arena for a showdown with the Russian president. Putin however, prefers to mount his challenge in Iran and Syria.