Russia is preparing to send two amphibious assault ships to the Syrian port of Tartus where Moscow operates a strategic naval base to ensure safety of its nationals, the Interfax news agency reported earlier this week.
“Two major amphibious ships - The Nikolai Filchenkov and The Tsezar Kunikov - are preparing to be dispatched to Tartus outside of their schedule,” the Russian news agency quoted an unidentified Officer from the Russian naval headquarters as saying. The two ships will carry a “large” group of marines, Interfax added.
There was no official confirmation of the report from the Navy or the Defense Ministry.
The Tsezar Kunikov can carry 150 landing troops and various armaments including tanks, while The Nikolai Filchenkov can carry up to 1,500 tonnes of cargo and equipment, the report said.
Interfax said that the ships could be used to evacuate Russian nationals. “The crews of The Nikolai Filchenkov and The Tsezar Kunikov and SB-15 rescue tug together with marines on board are able to ensure security of Russian nationals and evacuate part of the property of the logistical support base if need be,” Interfax quoted a source as saying.
In the meantime, a Russian ship allegedly carrying attack helicopters destined for Syria has turned back from British waters and is believed to be returning home, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday.
The vessel, the MV Alaed, had stopped off the Scottish coast after its British insurer Standard Club said it had withdrawn cover because of the claims that it was carrying arms.
“I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has now turned back apparently towards Russia,” Hague told parliament.
Britain's Foreign Office said it was “aware of a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters heading to Syria”, although it did not specify whether it was the Alaed.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that the ship, owned by Russian cargo line Femco, had picked up its cargo of Mi-25 helicopters from the Russian port of Kaliningrad, where they had been sent for servicing and repairs.
The United States alerted Britain to the consignment and British security services told its insurance company that providing insurance for the shipment would breach EU sanctions, reports said.
Meanwhile, Syria and Russia denied a report by the Iranian Fars news agency that Russian, Chinese, Syrian, and Iranian troops would conduct large-scale joint military exercises in Syria within the next several weeks.
Interfax quoted Bouthaina Shaaban, a Political and Media Adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, describing the report as “false.”
“There will be nothing of the sort. This is another false report being spread about us,” he said.
The Russian Defense Ministry called such reports “disinformation.”
Source: Interfax; The Sunday Telegraph