The Russian Navy has begun its biggest war games in the high seas in decades that will include manoeuvres off the shores of Syria.

More than two dozen ships drawn Russia’s all four fleets, as well as long-range warplanes, will conduct nine-day exercises in the Mediterranean and Black seas. It is the largest naval manoeuvres since the collapse of the Soviet Union, officials said.

The purpose of the war games is to improve coordination between different naval groups during missions in “far-away sea zones,” the Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

Experts suggested the exercises will serve to project Russia’s naval power to a highly explosive region and render moral support for the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“This part of the world ocean has key geopolitical interest for Russia, considering that the Russian Navy has a maintenance and supply facility in Syria,” the Russian Navy General Staff said last month.

Russia leases a naval base at the Syrian port of Tartous.

The naval manoeuvres will involve training for landing operations on the Syrian shore, informed sources told Russia’s Interfax news agency. Several big landing ships taking part in the Russian war games carry marines, munitions, and “military hardware,” Interfax reported last week.

Moscow may also be preparing for possible evacuation of thousands of Russian nationals from war-torn Syria, experts said. About 9,000 Russians are registered with the Russian Embassy in Damascus, but their total number may well exceed 30,000. Thousands of Russian women have married Syrian men who studied at Russian universities and military academies in past decades.

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