Russia has dispatched the flagship of its fleet, the aircraft
carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko,
to the eastern Mediterranean where it will visit a naval base in Syria,
in a show of support of Bashar al Assad the Syrian president facing
calls for his indictment for war crimes.
The Kuznetsov was being monitored by HMS York 30 miles off the coast of Fife, Scotland, in international waters.
But the Voice of Russia said that its task would be to join an exercise in the Mediterranean.
This will include a visit to Tartus, a Syrian port where Russia has a resupply base.
The news came as the United Nations accused Assad and his regime of the murder of 5,000 of his own citizens.
Russian officials said that the tour by the warship, and its escort
of sophisticated submarine hunters and air surveillance weapons, had
been planned well ahead of recent violence in Syria.
Either way, the intent to go to Tartus, combined with Russian foreign
minister Sergei Lavrov's claim that the West was "immoral" in singling
out Assad for criticism, sends a signal to Damascus that it has not been
abandoned by its old ally to the north.
The Soviet Union armed and trained the Syrian armed forces.
It has significant numbers of aircraft and battle tanks - but all
more than a generation older than anything still being used by its
neighbour, Turkey, a member of Nato - or Israel, which remains in
occupation of the Syrian Golan heights.
The Kuznetsov carrier group, which rarely leaves its base at Severomorsk, will arrive off the coast of Syria early next year.
Its presence is likely to boost the morale of the diplomatically embattled Assad.
e is facing sanctions from the Arab League, veiled threats from
Turkey to establish a civilian safe zone on Syrian territory - and a
growing violent insurgency against his rule.
The aircraft carrier would send a signal to the West and Nato that the imposition of a no-fly-zone similar to that used against Gaddafi in Libya would be dangerous.
So far Nato members have ruled out military intervention in Syria
anyway - not least because of the dangerous regional implications of
attacking Assad who is backed by Iran.
Now Assad can be sure, he also has the physical backing of the Kremlin.
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