Russia has sent a large flotilla of warships to Syria even as NATO is conducting war games in the region.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said 11 warships drawn from the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea Fleets were on a three-month training mission in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The flotilla includes three destroyers, five landing ships, tankers and support vessels.
The official announcement made no mention of Syria, but military sources said some of the ships with marines onboard would visit the Russian naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus to “stock up on fuel, water and food”.
Russia’s naval build-up in the Eastern Mediterranean comes at a time when the NATO navy is flexing its muscle in the area. The Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 comprising Turkish, German and French warships is conducting anti-terrorist drills not far from the Syrian borders.
The growing military activity near Syrian borders follows a flare-up of tension between Turkey and Syria over a recent cross-border incident when Syrian air defences shot down a Turkish jet that violated Syria’s airspace.
As Russia dispatched its warships to Syria, the head of Syria’s main opposition group visited Moscow in an effort to persuade the Russian leadership to stop backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Following talks Syrian National Council chief Abdel Basset Sayda held with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a spokesperson for the SNC said Russia refused to shift its position.
In its communiqué on the talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry said dialogue between the Syrian opposition and the government “without any pre-conditions” was the only way to end violence in Syria.
“Lavrov strongly urged his interlocutors to take a clear and unambiguous stand confirming the SNC’s readiness to honour its obligations under Kofi Annan’s plan,” said the Russian statement.
Mr. Sayda for his part said the opposition was not prepared for peace talks till the Syrian President stepped down. At the same time he said Moscow had made some new proposals that would be discussed at follow-up meetings between the two sides.
Two days ago Moscow played host to another Syrian opposition leader and intellectual, Michel Kilo, who said he had “very successful talks” with the Russian Foreign Minister.