Russia’s Defense Ministry denied on Friday that it plans to send naval vessels to the Syrian port of Tartus, the state-owned RIA news agency said, as Moscow called for Kofi Annan to be urgently replaced as envoy for Syria.
It dismissed reports, attributed by Russian news agencies to a source in the general staff, that Moscow was sending three large landing ships with marines aboard, according to Reuters.
Earlier Friday, Russian news agencies, quoting an unnamed defense source, said Moscow was planning in the coming days to send 3 assault ships with hundreds of marines aboard to the Syrian port of Tartus to pick up water and food supplies.
Syria is Moscow’s firmest foothold in the Middle East and bought $1 billion worth of weapons from Russia last year, or about 8% of total Russian arms exports.
Tartus is the Russian Navy’s only permanent warm water port outside the former Soviet Union.
The potential loss of Tartus would be a strategic blow to Russia, according to what the Interfax news agency described as a military-diplomatic source.
“Tartus is of extreme military-strategic importance for the Russian Navy, as the backup for the task forces in the Mediterranean. Therefore, its loss would entail deep negative consequences and the actual loss of influence in this key region,” Interfax quoted the source as saying.
Source: Reuters; RIA; Interfax – Photo: Reuters