In its latest escalation of the international anxiety over the Syrian civil war, Russia announced on Thursday that a group of five warships from its Pacific Fleet have entered the Mediterranean sea to bolster a new regional task force, according to a fleet spokesman quoted on the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti.
“The task force has successfully passed through the Suez Canal and entered the Mediterranean. It is the first time in decades that Pacific Fleet warships enter this region,” Capt. First Rank Roman Martov said.
Novosti said the warships’ immediate destination was Limassol, on the island of Cyprus, where they will join Russia’s Mediterranean task force.
An official from the Russian Embassy in Beirut confirmed to the Daily Star of Lebanon that the ships were indeed in the Mediterranean, adding that it was merely a routine procedure.
First such routine procedure since 1992.
Russia maintains a military base in the port of Tartous, Syria.
Novosti said the vessels – including the destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, the amphibious warfare ships Peresvet and Admiral Nevelskoi, and a tanker and a tug – left the port of Vladivostok on March 19. The Russian plan to expand its naval presence near Syria was announced in April.
A permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean was needed to defend Russia’s interests in the region, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March.
It’s like the Cold War never ended.
According to Novosti, a senior Defense Ministry official said the Mediterranean task force’s command and control agencies will be based either in Novorossiysk, Russia, or in Sevastopol, Ukraine.
The U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet maintains its own permanent presence in the Mediterranean.