Russian missiles, Syrian government forces will not receive the first shipment of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems until the middle of next year, Russian media have reported.
One defence source told the Kommersant daily that according to contracts signed in 2010, Moscow is due to deliver six sets of the S-300 systems by spring 2014. Another source said it would take another six months for the Syrian military to be trained to use them.
The report contradicts assertions made on Thursday by Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, that the systems were on their way.
The Vedomosti newspaper reported that Russia would send four S-300 systems to Syria as part of a contract worth $1bn (£660m), but that it was unclear when the arms would arrive.
The S-300 contracts were signed roughly a year before civil unrest against Assad's regime erupted in March 2011.
Russia's foreign ministry has been reluctant to discuss an exact time frame for the missile shipments. Earlier this week, the deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said he wasn't able to confirm when the S-300s would arrive.
"I can only say that we won't cancel the contracts," he said. The foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has been similarly reticent.
Separately, Russian officials have said that a new contract to sell updated MiG warplanes to Syria is being finalised with Syrian officials in Moscow. Sergei Korotkov, CEO of the MiG company, told journalists outside Moscow that his company had agreed with a Syrian military delegation to deliver at least 10 MiG-29MM2 aircraft.
Analysts said the move was a further show by the Syrian leadership that western powers should think twice before becoming more deeply embroiled in the war.
"Evidently the Syrian government feels confident and wants to show that it's buying modern weapons aimed at countering foreign aggression," said Igor Korotchenko, editor of National Defense magazine and a former defence ministry employee.
"Such warplanes aren't used against rebels, because that would bring new sanctions against Syria," he said, although video footage is frequently posted purporting to show MiGs bombing built-up urban areas.
"The war with the rebels is waged using infantry, Kalashnikov automatic rifles, tanks and armoured vehicles," he said.
Korotchenko described the MiG 29MM2 as a multifunctional craft that can be used to attack targets on land and sea.
The analyst said Assad's father had bought so many tanks, rifles and armoured vehicles that the current regime had no need for new purchases to wage war against the rebels.
"The Syrian government needs modern means of waging war, including S-300s, anti-missile systems and warplanes. These are essential if foreign powers such as the US and Britain impose a no-fly zone or launch air strikes on Syria."
Korotchenko said it was highly unlikely Russia had already delivered shipments of S-300s to Syria, saying the weapons were bulky and US and Israeli intelligence would have easily spotted them using satellite observation.
"You can't hide S-300s in your pocket. If they had been delivered, western intelligence would have made an announcement."
An aide to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, refused comment on the possible delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft systems to Syria.
"I wouldn't like to comment on the specifics, whether it's the first delivery or the second. I don't know which delivery you're talking about," said Yury Ushakov, the aide, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
"But I would like to stress that the Russian side isn't delivering any weapons that would fall under the relevant international bans," the Kremlin official said.
Assad said on Thursday that it was "not our policy to talk publicly about military issues in terms of what we possess or what we receive".
During an interview with al-Manar TV, broadcast on Thursday, he said: "As far as Russia is concerned, the contracts have nothing to do with the crisis. We have negotiated with them on different kinds of weapons for years, and Russia is committed to honouring these contracts."
He said the ongoing crisis in Syria had not affected arms imports. "All of our agreements with Russia will be implemented, some have been implemented during the past period and, together with the Russians, we will continue to implement these contracts in the future."
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