The departure of a large group of ships of the Russian Navy to the coast of Syria is pursuing two well-defined goals, experts believe. The first one of them is to reinforce Russia's stance on Syria with real arguments. The second one is to evacuate Russian citizens from the country, if necessary.
However, they suspect in the West that the training and combat mission of the Russian warships is being carried out to cover up the delivery of arms to the troops of Bashar al-Assad. Many in the West also think that the mission manifests Russia's claim for a piece of the Syrian coast, on which there is an army base in Tartus. Traditionally, the Defense Ministry does not share much information on the subject. Russian defense officials do not hurry to confirm the information saying that the Russian ships will call at a Syrian port.
Landing ship "Caesar Kunikov" of the Black Sea Fleet went to the Mediterranean Sea on Wednesday, Interfax said. "On Sunday, the ship was ordered to follow in the Mediterranean Sea ... The ship will be solving the tasks of military service. The plan of the mission stipulates a stop at the Syrian port of Tartus to replenish stocks. A Marine Corps detachment in on board the ship," said the source. It was also said that that rescue tug "Miner" took the course in the Mediterranean Sea. Earlier, rescue tug SB-5 entered the Mediterranean Sea too.
The first official reaction of the U.S. authorities was diplomatic and calm. "We have received information about the mission of the ships, we've also heard the Russian authorities saying that the ships would call at Tartus for refueling and that their mission was not connected with the Syrian conflict. We hope it's true ... We are in touch with the Russian side on this issue," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said.
Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman of the U.S. National Security Council reminded reporters that Russia had is a point of technical servicing in Tartus. "We do not see any reason to believe this campaign is something extraordinary. But I'd recommend asking details from the Russian authorities," Al Arabia quoted Pelton.
Russia's Defense Ministry is being careful with its comments about sending the warships to the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, the press-service of the ministry announced that "the group of the ships of the Northern and Baltic fleets will conduct a training combat mission in the Mediterranean and in the Black Seas, in collaboration with a group of Black Sea Fleet - large landing warships "Nikolay Filchenkov, " "Caesar Kunikov "and escort ship "Smetliviy." The officials also explained that the group included Northern Fleet ships "Admiral Chabanenko", "Aleksandr Otrakovsky," "George the Victorious" and "Kondopoga", as well as support vessels "Nicholai Chiker" and "Sergey Osipov". Later, the Baltic Fleet patrol ship "Yaroslav Mudry" and "Lena" tanker joined them.
However, the Defense Ministry did not specify how close the ships would approach the Syrian coast and whether they planned to call in Tartus. "Since there is a Russian base at the Syrian port of Tartus, it is possible that the ships will enter the port to replenish stocks," Andrei Taraman, the Head of Information said Wednesday.
Back in mid-June, military sources reported that a group of two large amphibious ships from the Black Sea Fleet with "black berets" on board and a rescue tug accompanying them would travel to Tartus to evacuate the personnel of the Russian base and other Russian citizens staying in Syria. The Defense Ministry remained silent for a long time, neither confirming nor denying the information.
There were several official statements released, though. For example, the Defense Ministry denied the rumors saying that "Kaliningrad", a ship of the Baltic Fleet, would join the Black Sea Fleet squadron. However, the ministry did not deny the fact that the Black Sea Fleet ships were getting ready for the mission. The officials accused foreign media of spreading disinformation: the Western media reported that Russia was working to organize joint Syrian-Iranian-Chinese-Russian maneuvers.
The last statement from the Defense Ministry about the departure of the Russian vessels to Syria's Tartus was made in late June, but it did not clarify the situation in general. "The armed forces are not taking any emergency measures... It's too early to think of something bad," said the chief of staff Gen. Nikolai Makarov.
While the Defense Ministry continues to remain silent about the plans of the Russian Navy to visit Tartus, the West speculates on the Mediterranean campaign of the Russian ships. There are two main objectives, journalists and analysts believe - to demonstrate force and prepare for a possible evacuation of Russians.
Western diplomats are convinced that Russia wants to show its support for Assad, and thus warn the West against the military operation in the region, The Telegraph writes. It is worthy of note that Moscow canceled the delivery of Yak-30 planes to Damascus, the newspaper said.
Earlier, Russia would send warships from time to time for maneuvers in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, but the extraordinary scale of the forces sent to the region is seen as a message not only for the region but for the United States and other countries that support the rebels and try to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, writes The New York Times.
There is also an opinion saying that Russia hopes to get hold of a strategically important piece of coast in Tartus. The Kremlin supposedly makes it clear for America and other powers that the preservation of the Russian military base in Tartus is a priority, Foreign Policy said.
Probably, Moscow hopes that the deployment of marines will help Assad's regime defeat his opponents, or preserve Russia's access to Tartus, if the regime falls, the authors of the article wrote. One or more of these groups may conclude that an attack on the Russian forces in Syria is a great way to increase their popularity and legitimacy in comparison with others, says Foreign Policy.