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Russia reinforces naval presence in Mediterranean ahead of Syria’s Idlib offensive

Russia is reportedly boosting its military presence in the Mediterranean Sea by dispatching a number of warships off the Syrian coast, the Russian media say, as the Syrian army prepares to launch a full-scale offensive against terrorists in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Citing unnamed sources, the Kommersant, a Russian nationwide general political newspaper, reported on Tuesday that Moscow had purportedly sent two warships and an additional anti-aircraft missile system to the Mediterranean earlier this month.

On Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry’s press service announced in a statement that the Admiral Grigorovich and the Admiral Essen, two frigates of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, were heading to the Mediterranean in order to reinforce Russia’s military presence in the region amid reports that the United States was preparing to strike the Arab country.

Additionally on Tuesday, pro-Moscow newspaper Izvestia reported that Russia currently had at least 10 warships and two submarines in the Syrian waters, adding that this amounted to Moscow’s biggest military presence there since it became involved in anti-terror operations in September 2015 upon a formal request from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to the daily, Russia plans to send “several more” warships to the vicinity of the coasts of the Arab country.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has already said the Tahrir al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group “is close to committing a very serious provocation in Idlib using chemical weapons.”

At the weekend, Russia repeatedly warned that Syrian-based terrorists were planning the attack in the militant-held province.

The United States has warned it would respond to a chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces with retaliatory strikes, stressing that the attacks would be stronger than those conducted by American, British and French forces back in April.

On April 14, the United States, Britain and France carried out a string of airstrikes against Syria over a suspected chemical weapons attack against the city of Douma, located about 10 kilometers northeast of the capital Damascus. The strike came one week after an alleged gas attack on the Damascus suburb town of Douma.

Western governments and their allies have never stopped pointing the finger at Damascus whenever an apparent chemical attack takes place.

Syria surrendered its stockpile of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the United States and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry. It has also consistently denied using chemical weapons over the course of the foreign-backed militancy, which gripped the country in 2011.

Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean comprises a combination of ships from its Black Sea Fleet and Northern Fleet in the Arctic Ocean. The task force is mainly aimed at countering possible aggressive activities of NATO in the region, bolstering Russia’s defensive measures for its Black Sea borders and launching strikes against terrorist targets in Syria.

In December 2017, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, approved a deal to extend the lease of a Mediterranean base used by the Russian Navy in the Syrian port of Tartus for 49 years and modernize the facility.

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