NATO confirmed a large scale Russian navy buildup in the Mediterranean Sea off Syria on Tuesday. “The Russian Navy has dispatched substantial naval forces to the Mediterranean, including several ships equipped with modern cruise missiles,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu confirmed to Haaretz in a statement.
Russian media on Tuesday called the deployment Moscow’s largest naval buildup since it entered the Syrian conflict in 2015. The reinforcement comes as Russia’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is believed to be considering an assault on the last big rebel-held enclave, Idlib in the north.
Lungescu said, “Many NATO Allies border the Mediterranean, and our navies constantly operate there, so we monitor naval activity in the region, including that of Russia.”
“We will not speculate on the intention of the Russian fleet, but it is important that all actors in the region exercise restraint and refrain from worsening an already disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria,” added the spokesperson.
“NATO is not present in Syria, but we support the efforts of the United Nations to achieve a lasting political resolution to the conflict.”
Russia claimed on Monday that the U.S. is preparing for a possible strike on Syria. Major-General Igor Konashenkov was quoted by agencies as saying that the USS Ross, a guided-missile destroyer, had entered the Mediterranean on Aug. 25 armed with 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of hitting any target in Syria.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that the Russian military was in talks with leaders of armed groups in Syria’s rebel-held Idlibprovince to reach a peace settlement, Russian news agency RIA reported.
Shoigu said the aim of the Idlib talks was to reach peaceful resolution similar to the settlements in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta and Deraa, RIA said.
The Russian Navy has dispatched the biggest task force to the Mediterranean Sea since the start of Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict in September 2015, Russian daily Izvestia reported.
* The task force includes 13 warships and two submarines
* Most of the ships carry ‘Kalibr’ cruise missiles
* Several more ships are reportedly on their way to join the task force
* Izvestia cites military experts as saying the fleet will be able to support the Syrian army’s campaign in rebel-held Idlib Province
* Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War in 2015 backing the government of President Bashar al-Assad