Russia bolsters navy presence in Mediterranean off Syria

Russia bolsters navy presence in Mediterranean off Syria
Russia has dispatched the largest number of naval vessels into Syrian waters since the beginning of its intervention there, amid speculation that the US might be preparing another ‘chemical attack’ false flag and a missile strike.

Two submarines and at least ten Russian surface warships are currently in the Mediterranean. Many are armed with long-range missiles, such as the frigates Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen, which were photographed transiting the Bosporus from the Black Sea on Friday.

Some outlets, such as the Lebanon-based daily Al-Masdar, report there are seventeen Russian vessels off the Syrian coast, the largest concentration since the beginning of Russian intervention in Syria in September 2015.

Russia has dispatched “substantial naval forces to the Mediterranean, including several ships equipped with modern cruise missiles,” NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu told the Israeli daily Haaretz.

“We will not speculate on the intention of the Russian fleet, but it is important that all actors in the region exercise restraint and refrain from worsening an already disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria,” added Lungescu.

Over the past three years, the Syrian government has regained control over much of the country, defeating both IS forces and various armed rebel factions, including Al-Qaeda affiliates. Preparations are underway for operations against the last remaining rebel stronghold, in the northern province of Idlib.

Back in May, Moscow announced that a naval presence in Syria will be maintained to prevent the resurgence of the defeated Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and other terrorists. It is possible the Russian fleet will provide missile support for operations in Idlib. However, Al-Masdar speculates that the real reason for the naval buildup is to ward off another US-led strike against Damascus.

The US, UK and France launched cruise missile strikes against the Syrian government in April, after Jaysh-al-Islam (Army of Islam) militants accused government forces of a “chemical attack” in Douma. Once they were able to inspect the site, however, international inspectors found no traces of nerve gas, and only traces of chlorine compounds normally found in household products and water purification plants.

Last week, US national security adviser John Bolton warned that “if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons, we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time.”

The US Navy has also deployed ships to the region - guided missile destroyer USS Ross is in the Mediterranean, and USS The Sullivans is in the Persian Gulf. B-1B Lancer bombers have also been sent to Qatar.

Between Bolton’s statements and the deployments, the Russian Defense Ministry is suspicious of another possible strike, on the manufactured pretext of chemical warfare. Militants in Idlib are planning to stage a “chemical attack” and blame it on Damascus, the ministry warned. Russian observers in Syria received reports from Idlib residents in late July that a false flag was in the works.

Writing about the fleet build-up, the Russian newspaper Izvestiya referred to the task force as a “naval shield.”

"The presence of our task force is a sobering factor,” political analyst Roland Bijamov told Izvestiya on Tuesday. “That’s the only way to look at it. Maybe that will deter the Americans.”

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