Russia, France deploy warships to eastern Mediterranean

Moscow and Tehran urge West to refrain from military action

Illustrative photo: The Russian Federation Navy Udaloy class destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov (US Navy)
Illustrative photo: The Russian Federation Navy Udaloy class destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov (US Navy)

The Kremlin is to deploy a missile cruiser and an anti-submarine ship to the eastern Mediterranean in the coming days, amid rising tension over a possible US-led military response to Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use.

“The well-known situation shaping up in the eastern Mediterranean called for certain corrections to the make-up of the naval forces,” a Moscow military source told Russia’s Interfax news agency.

“A large anti-submarine ship of the Northern Fleet will join them [the existing naval forces] over the next few days. Later it will be joined by… a rocket cruiser of the Black Sea Fleet.”

The report of new Russian naval activity came days after the US announced its dispatch of four naval vessels toward the Syrian coast. The UK also began mustering military aircraft and transports at the Akrotiri airbase on Cyprus, the Guardian reported earlier this week. On Thursday France dispatched the advanced frigate Chevalier Paul to the region from the Mediterranean port of Toulon, French news site Le Point reported.

Last month Russia reportedly shut down its naval station in the Syrian port city of Tartus and pulled its military and non-diplomatic civilian personnel out of Syria. The Russian Defense Ministry later denied the report, only to have an identical report surface on Wednesday.

In a telephone conversation held Wednesday, Russia and Iran’s presidents agreed that the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons was unacceptable, but called for the West to reconsider plans to launch a military intervention in Syria, Reuters reported.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani “consider the use of chemical weapons by anyone intolerable,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Nevertheless, both Moscow and Tehran are major backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and have vociferously opposed Western intervention in the civil war that has raged there for over two years. Both countries supply the Assad regime with the bulk of its military hardware through regular airlifts.

Russia has said it will not intervene should the US attack, but came under fire by Washington Wednesday for seeking to block a UN Security Council resolution authorizing force against Damascus. US President Barack Obama said he has not yet decided whether to carry out a military strike against the Syrian government.

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