Photograph published by Daily Mail purportedly showing radars associated with S400 surface to air missile system present at Russia's Latakia air base is probably a fake
Last week reports began to appear in the international media that the Russians had deployed S400 surface to air missiles in Syria.
The S400 is the most sophisticated surface to air missile in existence.
Technologically it is a full generation ahead of the S300 that has been so much talked about.
Deployment of the S400 system to Syria would mark a major escalation.
The reports of the deployment of the S400 system in Syria are however almost certainly wrong.
The Russian Defence Ministry has categorically denied the S400 system has been deployed to Syria.
The Russian denial is almost certainly true.
Generally, the Russians' usual practice is to refuse to confirm a military deployment if it is happening but cannot be admitted.
If the Russians categorically deny a deployment, then usually it is not happening.
This is not an absolute rule. However it is a good working rule of thumb.
In this case there would be little point denying the presence of the S400 system in Syria if it were actually there, given that the sheer size of the system would make it immediately visible probably even in publicly available images obtained via commercial satellites
Importantly the governments of the US, Turkey and Israel - who might be expected to protest the deployment of the S400 to Syria - have said nothing about it, which is another good reason for doubting reports of the deployment.
It seems the origin of the story was a photograph that appeared in the British newspaper the Daily Mail.
The photograph appears to show radar systems associated with the S400 present at the base in Latakia.
The photograph looks fake. The siting of the radars - bunched together in very close proximity to the runway - makes no sense.
Most likely the image of the radars was inserted into the photograph by photoshop.
Even if radars associated with the S400 are indeed present at Latakia, that does not prove that the whole system has been deployed there.
We recently discussed the probability that the Russians have deployed powerful radars to Latakia, and there is no reason why these should not be the same radars that are used for the S400 system.
It remains likely that at some point the Russians will deploy more powerful surface to air missiles to the base at Latakia to supplement the Panstir S1 short range point defence system that is known to be there. However there is no evidence that such a deployment has yet taken place.
In the meantime it is better not to speculate about the presence of particular systems at Latakia until the Russians either confirm their presence, or their presence is independently confirmed by imagery from satellites.
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