St. PETERSBURG, September 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russia has strengthened its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea for a possible evacuation of Russian nationals from Syria, the Kremlin chief of staff said Thursday.
Asked why Russia is boosting its task force in the region, Sergei Ivanov said: “Above all, given the presence there of amphibious landing ships, they are intended for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens.”
Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said earlier on Thursday that the country’s increased presence in the Mediterranean is “a legitimate, natural and predictable reaction to the situation developing” in the region.
“Our actions are in strict compliance with international law and the UN Charter,” he stressed, adding that the Mediterranean Sea is “quite close to Russia’s borders.”
However, he stressed that Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea should not be interpreted as an indication that the country plans to take an active role in any regional conflict, he said.
“Our warships are a guarantee of regional stability, an attempt to restrain other forces that are ready to launch military operations in the region,” Antonov said.
Russian media reports earlier cited senior Russian diplomatic, naval and defense officials as saying that changes to Russia’s presence in the Mediterranean was part of a “normal rotation,” that the fleet was not being strengthened, and that these changes were not a response to rising international and regional tensions over the conflict in Syria.
However, on Wednesday, a high-ranking Defense Ministry source told RIA Novosti that a new group of ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will join the country’s Mediterranean task force within days.
The Defense Ministry source confirmed media reports that the electronic intelligence ship Priazovye would be part of the new grouping, and gave further details of the changes.
Also on Wednesday, a high-ranking member of Russia’s General Staff told RIA Novosti that the Slava class guided missile cruiser Moskva was heading from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, where it will take over from the Admiral Panteleyev destroyer on September 17.
Updated with last 4 grafs at 22:15