Russia sends more warships to Syrian coast as regime mulls Idlib offensive
The movement of several frigates comes as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who Russia supports in the war, is believed to be considering an offensive to capture the last major rebel-held area of the country, Idlib.
The Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Essen frigates sailed through Istanbul's Bosphorus towards the Mediterranean on Saturday, Reuters pictures showed, while a day earlier, the Pytlivy frigate and landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov were pictured sailing through the Turkish straits that connect the Black Sea with the Mediterranean.
The Vishny Volochek missile corvette passed through earlier in August, Reuters reported.
The Izvestia newspaper reported 10 vessels, most of them armed with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles, had so far been deployed, with more on the way, and that two submarines had also been sent, making it Russia's largest naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea since it intervened in Syria in 2015 - its military power widely thought to have turned the tide in Assad's favour.
Read more: How long will foreign troops stay in Syria?
Moscow previously announced in March 2016 and January 2017 that it was withdrawing from the Syrian conflict, yet in both cases it became evident it was rotating its forces as it continued to directly support Syrian regime offensives.
More recently, in December 2017, Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian forces. Since then, Russian jets helped Damascus capture Eastern Ghouta, as well as the southern provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida. It would therefore not be surprising if Russia also assists in a future Syrian regime offensive against the northwestern province of Idlib, Middle East journalist Paul Iddon told The New Arab last month.
Russia has previously accused the United States of building up its own forces in the Middle East in preparation for a possible strike on Syrian regime forces.
The Pentagon has previously said it would maintain an 'open-ended' military presence in Syria to counter Iran and Islamic State group threats.
Iran on Saturday announced a military and reconstruction pact with the Syrian regime, entrenching its influence in the war-torn country.
Iran's Revolutionary Guard is a key player in Syria, having flooded the country with foreign militias.