Russia 'Flexes Muscles' in Mediterranean Amid Syrian Crisis
MOSCOW, January 20 (RIA Novosti) – Russia has started the largest naval exercises in the past few decades in the Mediterranean and Black Seas as a civil war in Syria continues to gain momentum.
The drills involve task forces from Russia's Black Sea, Northern and Baltic fleets, strategic bombers, tactical aircraft, air defense units, paratroopers and naval infantry.
An official statement by the Defense Ministry, issued on Saturday, says the exercises "are held in line with the Russian Armed Forces' 2013 combat training plan and focus on interoperability of task forces from several fleets while on a mission in a far-off maritime zone."
The exercises will continue until January 29 and involve over 60 drills, including anti-submarine warfare missions, missile and artillery firing practices.
The training may also include simulated beach landing and convoy escort missions as the task forces have four large landing ships and a variety of auxiliary vessels in their composition.
Some of the exercises are expected to be carried out in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, and, possibly close to the territorial waters of Syria, where rebels have recently stepped up their attacks on army installations in their determined drive to oust President Bashar Al-Assad.
At least 60,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict since March 2011, according to latest UN data.
Russia has faced heavy international criticism over its refusal to back UN sanctions against Syria, its last ally in the Arab world, over what it called the pro-rebel bias of some resolutions proposed by Western nations.
Moscow denies it is backing President Bashar Assad and says it is concerned that the Syrian president's forced departure would only worsen the conflict and lead to the repetition of the so-called 'Libyan scenario."
The Russian Navy keeps a naval re-supply and maintenance base in the Syrian port of Tartus to support its operations in the Mediterranean.
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