Russia has sent a naval flotilla of seven warships led by an anti-submarine destroyer to its naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.
AFP quoted the report as having said that the Admiral Chabanenko and three landing craft have left their home port of Severomorsk in the Arctic Circle on their way to the Mediterranean. They will be joined by the Russian patrol ship Yaroslav Mudry as well as an assistance vessel.
The patrol ship Smetlivy from the Russian Black Sea Fleet's base in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol is also on its way to Tartus, Interfax added.
"The program of the voyage includes a call in the Syrian port of Tartus,” the unnamed source told the news agency, adding the trip was taking place in line with the plans of military readiness of the Russian fleet.
According to Interfax, the source insisted that the deployment “was not linked to the escalation of the situation in Syria.”
“In Tartus the ships are going to top up on supplies of fuel, water and foodstuffs,” the source said, adding that their deployment in the Mediterranean would last until the end of September.
The Russian ministry of defense reportedly confirmed in a statement that a major deployment of Russian ships was planned in the Mediterranean Sea involving vessels from both the Northern and Black Sea Fleets, without giving further details.
The Tartus facility is Russia's only remaining military base outside the former Soviet Union, AFP noted. Facilities for the Russian navy at Tartus are limited and the port is itself not deep enough to host large ships, which are forced to anchor outside.
The Russian military prefers to call the facility a "point of military-technical supply of the Russian Navy" rather than an actual base, noted the report.
Putting it at odds with the West, Russia has blocked the UN Security Council from taking strong, punitive action against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime over its crackdown on anti-regime protesters.
Russia, which has shipped billions of dollars’ worth of missiles, tanks, artillery and other military gear to Syria over more than four decades, has continued to do so during the 16-month-old uprising against Assad.
A recent report in The Associated Press revealed some weapons systems Russia has recently shipped to Syria or pledged to deliver.
The country signaled on Monday that it would not sign new weapons contracts with Syria so long as the situation in the country remains unstable.
A recent report in a Russian daily newspaper said the country’s main weapons producer has suspended its contract with Syria to supply S-300 long-range missile systems.