US CENTCOM Chief Gen. Joseph Votel, the commander in charge of US forces in the Middle East, has confirmed that Russia has completed the delivery of its S-300 systems to Syria.
"We do believe that that system is – has been moved into Syria," Votel said, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday. "I won't comment on any particular locations or anything like that," he added.
Characterizing the S-300 deployment as "a needless escalation," the general suggested that the Russian decision may have been "perhaps a little bit of a knee-jerk response to the downing of their aircraft – the Russian aircraft – here a couple weeks ago."
Russia deployed 49 components associated with the S-300 system, including radars, control vehicles and four launchers, on Tuesday, in response to the destruction of a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane with 15 airmen onboard on September 17. The Russian Ministry of Defense blamed the plane's loss on Tel Aviv, accusing Israeli warplanes of using the Russian aircraft as a shield against Syrian rockets, and vowing to beef up Syrian air defenses and to take a number of other measures to boost the safety of Russian military personnel in Syria.
Speaking to reporters, Votel suggested that the S-300 deployment has "nothing to do" with Russia's mission of defeating Daesh (ISIS)*, and claimed that it instead "appears to be an effort to cover for Iranian and Syrian regime nefarious activities in Syria."
Ultimately, Votel stressed that the US was "very aware of the capabilities of [the S-300] and the potential threat that it can pose," but added that the US would continue to operate "as we have been in the area," and to "deconflict our operations with the Russian Federation to avoid miscalculations."
The US has not made an assessment about the possible permanent deployment of F-35s in and around Syria in response to the S-300 deployment in Syria and Iran's plans to purchase S-400 missile systems, the general said.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.