The rift between Russia and the West over Syria and Iran has widened on Tuesday as Moscow sent warships to Syrian shores in a show of support for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and slammed new United States sanctions against Iran as “unacceptable”.
Three Russian warships have entered Syrian territorial waters, Russian wire services reported on Tuesday citing Syrian sources. The news came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West and Arab monarchies of engaging in “political provocation” in Syria by rejecting dialogue between the opposition and authorities and welcoming armed attacks on government offices.
The Russian warships were reported to be heading towards the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia has a naval base. A source close to the Syrian President said the Russian ships would patrol Syrian waters “to prevent any military interference”. Media reports said the ships may try to intercept small vessels that are smuggling weapons for Syrian opposition from the Lebanon and Turkey.
The Russian military refused either to confirm or deny the reports.
“We are not commenting on this information,” said Russian Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo.
Also on Tuesday Russia dismissed new U.S. “exterritorial” sanctions against Iran as “unacceptable and violating international law”.
The U.S. sanctions slapped on Iran on Monday “seriously complicate efforts for constructive dialogue with Tehran,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
“Ratcheting up the sanctions pressure, which for some of our partners is becoming practically an end in itself, will not encourage Iran to sit down at the negotiating table,” the Russian statement said.