July 10, 2012
MOSCOW — Russia said on Tuesday that it had dispatched a flotilla of 11 warships to the eastern Mediterranean, some of which would dock in Syria. It would be the largest display of Russian military power in the region since the Syrian conflict began almost 17 months ago. Nearly half of the ships were capable of carrying hundreds of marines.
The announcement appeared intended to punctuate Russia’s effort to position itself as an increasingly decisive broker in resolving the antigovernment uprising in Syria, Russia’s last ally in the Middle East and home to Tartus, its only foreign military base outside the former Soviet Union. The announcement also came a day after Russia said it was halting new shipments of weapons to the Syrian military until the conflict settled down.
Russia has occasionally sent naval vessels on maneuvers in the eastern Mediterranean, and it dispatched an aircraft-carrying battleship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, there for maneuvers with a few other vessels from December 2011 to February 2012. There were rumors in recent weeks that the Russians planned to deploy another naval force near Syria.
But the unusually large size of the force announced on Tuesday was considered a message, not just to the region but also to the United States and other nations supporting the rebels now trying to depose Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.