Russia despatched a flotilla of warships to its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus on Tuesday in an apparent show of support for President Bashar al-Assad.
Two destroyers and three amphibious landing vessels carrying marines set sail from Russian bases in the Arctic and the Black Sea, according to Russian military sources.
Russia’s defence ministry insisted that the mission was part of a previously scheduled exercise in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea and at least one of the vessels in the flotilla has patrolled waters off Syria earlier this year.
But Western diplomats say the purpose of the mission is to show tangible support for Mr Assad, to warn the West against military intervention in Syria and to prepare for the possible evacuation of Russian nationals from the country.
Russia renewed naval patrols in the Mediterranean in 2007 – after a 15-year hiatus – with a wider aim of expressing the country’s military resurgence.
It was unclear whether the ships were carrying weapons supplies or large numbers of marines.
Despite the demonstration of military strength, speculation has been mounting that Russia is subtly realigning its once unquestioned support for Mr Assad, although its public position is unlikely to change. This week, Moscow announced that it would halt the delivery of new weapons to the Syrian armed forces, while some of Mr Assad’s leading opponents have been invited to the Kremlin for talks. source – Telegraph UK