Russia Sends Warships to Mediterranean, Denies Move Involves Syria

Vladimir Putin / AP

Russia is sending two warships to the Mediterranean, but Moscow denied the move was intended to bolster its naval force there in response to Western powers gearing up for military action against Syria, Reuters reports.

The Interfax news agency quoted a source in the armed forces' general staff as saying Russia, Bashar al-Assad's most powerful ally, was deploying a missile cruiser from the Black Sea Fleet and a large anti-submarine ship from the Northern Fleet in the "coming days":

Any strengthening of the navy's presence could fuel tension, especially as the United States has said it is repositioning naval forces in the Mediterranean following an alleged chemical weapons attack which is blames on Syrian government forces.

"The well-known situation now in the eastern Mediterranean required us to make some adjustments to the naval force," the source said in a reference to the events in Syria.

It was not clear when the vessels would arrive but Interfax said the Moskva missile cruiser was currently in the North Atlantic and would set sail in the next few days.

President Vladimir Putin has said the naval presence is needed to protect national security interests and is not a threat to any nation. Russia cooperates with NATO navies against piracy and its ships call at Western ports.

The navy later indicated a deployment was imminent in the Mediterranean but gave no details except to say it would be part of a long-planned rotation and suggested it would not increase the size of Russian forces there.

"This is not a new group ... but a planned rotation," an highly-placed navy official who was not identified told state-run RIA news agency.

President Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. had concluded Syria carried out a chemical weapons attack on its own people, but he added he had not made a decision on whether to carry out a military strike.