Russia has dispatched the destroyer Smetlivy, a missile carrier, and other ships to the eastern Mediterranean in its largest naval deployment since Soviet times ahead of Moscow’s plan to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control.
The move comes as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, examine the plan. Both Russia and the US have been beefing up their naval presence in the Med over the past several weeks.
The destroyer Smetlivy left a naval base in Sevastopol, Ukraine, on Tuesday on a mission to the Syrian coast, a military source told the state news agency Interfax on Thursday.
The source said the Smetlivy would travel to the Mediterranean with the amphibious assault ship Nikolai Filchenkov, which left Novorossiysk on Monday carrying unidentified supplies for the Damascus government.
The missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, is also on its way to the Syrian coast to lead the Russian force there. The ship is reportedly known as a “carrier-killer” because it is outfitted with Vulkan missiles, that are designed to destroy large ships.
Observers have speculated that the buildup is in preparation for an evacuation of Russian citizens in Syria or even to repel a possible US attack against the Assad regime. According to a scientist working on military research, who asked not to be named, the deployment will put Russia in a position to evacuate its citizens currently in Syria and serve as a deterrent against military actions by Turkey and other players in the region.
“The demonstration of strength, the demonstration of the flag, is an additional argument for Russia to be seen as important player,” they said. However, the Russian fleet will not be able to stop an American missile or aircraft strike against Syria, they added.
Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said that the Mediterranean force is part the biggest deployment of Russian ships worldwide in the post-Soviet era. However, Pukhov denied that the concentration of ships in the eastern Mediterranean was a direct reaction to the growing tensions over the Syrian conflict.