Russian Federation to hold Mediterranean naval drills as Syria tensions rise

Arturo Kim
August 31, 2018

Russia's Ministry of Defense said on Thursday it would hold naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea from September 1 to September 8 and that 25 vessels and 30 planes would take part, the TASS news agency reported.

The group will work out a set of tasks for anti-aircraft and anti-subversive and sabotage defense as well as protection against mines, the ministry said.

The campaign for Idlib, the opposition's only remaining stronghold in the country and now a refuge for over a million displaced Syrians, is likely to be the last major theatre of battle after seven years of brutal civil war.

Ankara has been asking Russian Federation for time to isolate HTS - which is commonly seen as an extremist group and whose existence is used by Russian Federation as reason to attack rebel-held areas - from other rebel groups and root it out of Idlib. The boats are mostly smaller frigates, but Russian officials have described this as the largest naval presence they've had near Syria since 2015.

The clock is ticking as allied Russian Federation builds its forces offshore in a warning to the United States not to gamble on any last-ditch move to stave off what Moscow called the impending "liquidation" of the rebel-held province.

The "Marshal Ustinov" missile cruiser would lead the drills.

US officials have remained quiet about the Russian naval movements, although Thursday's announcements by Moscow were matched by a Pentagon announcement that USA forces will stage their own weeklong regional war games next month with Egypt.

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The air force will consist of Tu-160 strategic bombers, Tu-142MK and Il-38 anti-submarine aircraft, Su-33 and Su-30SM naval aviation fighters, it said. Russian and Syrian warplanes would launch wave after wave of devastating airstrikes, before government forces besiege towns and cities, forcing residents to surrender or starve.

The U.N. worries that the offensive could force 2.5 million people toward the Turkish border.

The tensions are underscored by the Trump administration's determination to enforce a "red line" against chemical weapons in Syria.

"We need to reduce the risk of unexpected escalation, and definitely look with great concern about any potential use of chemical weapons or any type of weaponised chlorine", Mistura said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed Tuesday to have information that it is anti-Assad jihadi groups that are preparing a chemical attack in Idlib and that it will be videotaped by first responders known as the White Helmets, a Western-back humanitarian group that Russia has accused of fabricating attacks.

"We have engaged the Russian Government and also the military at the most senior level".

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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