Kremlin Denies U.S. Report on Largest Missile Shipment Yet to Syria’s Assad

Attack Idlib AFP

Russian officials on Thursday refused to comment on U.S. media reports saying Moscow had sent its biggest missile shipment yet to Syria this week.

The shipment of 50 SS-21 “Scarab” short-range ballistic missiles to the Syrian port of Tartus, first reported by FOX News, reportedly comes despite Moscow sponsoring a ceasefire between the regime and anti-regime rebels, and despite pledging to reduce its military involvement in Syria.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to Sputnik, a Russian media outlet, “We cannot comment on that. I have no such information.”

The SS-21 “Scarab” missiles, as NATO calls them, are known as “Tochka” missiles to Russia. It is a mobile missile system designed to launch precise attacks on enemy targets ranging from airfields to inventory supply and distribution posts, according to Sputnik.

The modernized version of the Tochka-U can carry nuclear, biological or chemical warheads, and has a maximum firing range of 185 kilometers (115 miles), according to the Russian outlet.

Russia intervened in September 2015 on behalf of the Syrian regime in its civil war, which began in 2011. The intervention helped to turn the tide of the war against anti-regime rebel groups, some of which were backed by the U.S.

Moscow said it was targeting ISIS, but airstrike statistics showed Russian attacks had mostly targeted anti-regime rebel forces until several months ago. In the past two months, it has escalated targeting of the terrorist group. Much of this has been due to the conquest of Aleppo, a rebel stronghold with no known substantial Islamic State presence.

Now, Russia is focusing on Idlib province. The FOX News report cites American sources claiming Russia has used two of SS-21 missiles and four SS-26 Iskander missiles in Idlib missions in the past two days against anti-regime fighters. The reports did not specify whether these rebel forces were allied with the United States or cooperating with jihadist groups like al-Qaeda.

In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would scale down its military presence in Russia, but as of now still has 50 aircraft there, including fighter jets, helicopters, gunships, and drones, according to FOX News.

Those strikes killed at least 15 people, wounded dozens more and demolished several buildings, Syrian activists said.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian planes had not conducted a single strike on Idlib this year.

Currently, Russian military forces are supporting Syrian regime forces as they look to retake Al-Bab from ISIS in northern Syria. Turkish and Turkish-backed Syrian local forces allied with the U.S. are also advancing on Al-Bab.