Russia is sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, which includes Syria’s coast, including a large anti-submarine ship and a powerful missile cruiser in the “coming days.”
Reuters reports Moscow as saying the move is a routine one, but the fact that the missile cruiserRFS Moskva was in the Atlantic and has been deployed to the Mediterranean makes it appear more likely that the move is aimed at countering similar moves by Western navies.
Reuters quoted a Russian source saying:
"The well-known situation now in the eastern Mediterranean required us to make some adjustments to the naval force.”
Another Reuters report quoted defence experts saying the two ships in question could give the Assad regime — supported in many ways by Russia — early warning of cruise missile launches, especially if launched from submarines or the newly-arriving ships could jam radars or navigation systems of Western ships.
Lee Willett, editor of the respected journal, IHS Jane's Navy International, said:
"What we may be seeing here is an example of gunboat diplomacy rather than a deliberate attempt to interfere directly in any coalition strike militarily. The simple presence of any ships will have an impact politically, and that is the primary intent."
Russia is already reported to have 16 warships and three ship-based helicopters in the Mediterranean. This will be increased by at least two, on board the Moskva.
The report says the Russian deployment in June is the first permanent deployment to the Mediterranean by the country since the Cold War.
Sky News, meanwhile, says the US has now deployed up to five missile cruisers into the Mediterranean, the last one being the USS Stout. The USS Mahan was expected to be withdrawn, but with the current crisis, may well remain in the region.
Both US warships are Arleigh Burke class missile destroyers and are approximately equivalent to the Russian Moskva missile cruiser.