Russia To Hold Naval Drill Off Syrian Coast

News Brief – Jan 11, 2013

A tactical naval group of Russian warships is heading to the eastern Mediterranean to conduct manoeuvres off the Syrian coast.
Consisting of vessels from the Russian Black Sea and Baltic Fleets, the flotilla is headed by the cruiser Moskva. Overhauled in 2000 and armed with 16 surface-to-surface anti ship missiles, up to 64 anti-aircraft missiles plus an array of naval guns and anti-submarine weapons, the 11,280 tonne Moskva is the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet
The Russian ships reportedly left Malta on Friday en route to their destination.
Earlier the Ivan Bubnov replenishment tanker refuelled the ships and provided them with additional water supplies and foodstuffs in the Cyprus port of Larnaca.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that the ships would practice supply transfers at sea during daylight and darkness and perform anti-submarine warfare drills.
In addition, the Ministry said, the drills were intended to test the ship’s emergency crews and the level of their preparedness.
The exercise is the largest and most extensive naval drill undertaken by the Russians since the demise of the Soviet Union. For the first time in decades virtually the entire Russian nave will be deployed in large-scale exercises between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea
Although the Russian Ministry of Defence didn’t say as much however, the drills are obviously also intended to send a message. The display of its naval power is a clear indication of Russia’s intention to deter any overt Western intervention in the Syrian crisis.
Signalling its intention to respond to any overt Western military action against Syria, Russia is tacitly warning that it will do so with force if necessary.
Putin would lose considerable influence if Assad were removed from power. Not only would Russia’s prestige be damaged, it would also probably lose an ally and a key connection in the region.
Russia has a small naval facility at Syrian port of Tartus, its only naval base outside of the former Soviet Union and one that provides a vital link with the Mediterranean Sea.
Giving added emphasis to the implied signal behind the drills, the latest talks over the Syrian crisis ended without agreement  Friday. Neither Russia nor America – supporters of the opposing sides in the Syrian conflict – was able to reach agreement at the end of the latest round of talks in Geneva.
So Russia has much to play for as has Iran, while the West – with the exception of its supposed ‘ally’ Israel – ha s little to lose if Assad is removed from power. Hopefully the West will recognise Russia’s signals and respond accordingly, although with Israel’s involvement we wouldn’t count on it.

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