Russia announces Mediterranean naval presence
"This is a strategically important region and we have tasks to carry out there to provide for the national security of the Russian Federation," says President
Russian President Vladimir Putin: Deployment is not "saber-rattling" and not meant as a threat to any nation
Russia has deployed a naval unit in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since the Soviet era, a move Russian President Vladimir Putin says is aimed at defending Russian security, but which comes as Moscow faces off with the West over Syria.
Russia's military chief of staff said on Thursday that Russia had stationed 16 warships and three ship-based helicopters in the region.
Putin said the deployment was not "saber-rattling" and not meant as a threat to any nation.
"This is a strategically important region and we have tasks to carry out there to provide for the national security of the Russian Federation," Putin said.
On Wednesday, Russian warships believed to be carrying arms to resupply the Syrian regime were spotted in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, according to a CNN report.
The report cited U.S. intelligence sources that stated they had identified the ships leaving Russian ports several days ago. Using U.S. satellite imagery, they had further identified containers thought to be carrying parts of the advanced S-300 anti-missile system, as well as other weapons to be used by Syrian President Bashar Assad's military.
According to the report, the U.S. did not identify helicopters being loaded onto the ships, which the Syrians are believed to have wanted to acquire from the Russians to use in their fight against the rebels.
Large-scale naval exercises Russia held in March and ship movements near Syria have been seen in the West as muscle-flexing by Moscow, which has sold weapons to Assad's government and shielded it from any action by the U.N. Security Council.
Russia maintains its only port in the Mediterranean in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus.
Putin's announcement comes days after Moscow said it planned to resume patrols by nuclear-armed submarines in the southern seas as part of a Putin's broader effort to revive Russia's military might.
Putin has stressed the importance of a strong military since returning to the presidency last May. In 13 years in power, he has often cited external threats when talking of the need for agile armed forces and Russian political unity. IsraelHayom