Russian warships in the Mediterranean are preparing for naval drills due in September, and are not carrying out any military tasks in Syria, Rear Admiral Alexander Fedosenkov, a Black Sea Fleet commander, said on Thursday.
The statement came after representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC), an Istanbul-based opposition group, expressed concerns over the deployment of a Russian warship group to the Mediterranean earlier this month, saying it was likely to aggravate the Syrian conflict and encourage President Bashar al-Assad to continue his crackdown on opposition groups.
Fedosenkov dismissed the allegations on Thursday, saying: “We are not performing any tasks in Syria. The Russian Navy flotilla, which includes warships and other vessels from the Northern, Baltic and Black Sea fleets… is preparing for the Kaskad-2012 drills.”
The Russian flotilla comprises 10 warships, plus escort vessels. Russia’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Viktor Chirkov, said earlier on Thursday the flotilla was carrying marines. Chirkov also said the Russian warships would not dock at the Syrian port of Tartus, home to a Russian ship re-supply and maintenance base.
“The joint fleet flotilla will not enter the port of Tartus,” he told journalists.
Russia – along with China – has vetoed three resolutions against the Assad regime over what it says is a pro-rebel bias. Moscow insists it has no special interest in seeing Assad remain in power, but said that the “Syrian people” must decide his fate.
President Vladimir Putin vowed, in a pre-election campaign article earlier this year, not to allow in Syria a repeat of last year’s “Libya scenario," which saw the ouster and murder of long-time Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, after a NATO military campaign.