Three Russian warships are on their way to Syria amid concern that the United States and other countries could launch cruise missiles against the embattled nation.
The SSV-201 intelligence ship Priazovye and two landing ships, Minsk and Novocherkassk, crossed Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait on Thursday on their way to the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Several warships from the United States are also in the region, having arrived there last week. Yahoo! News reports that the Priazivye left its home port of Sevastopol in Ukraine on Sunday.
Russia has kept warships in the Mediterranean since the Syrian crisis began. On an average day, the ally of Syria has about four warships in the region.
The country also has a naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus. ABC News notes that the Russian warships headed for Syria are meant as a way to evacuate Russian citizens from Syria, according to the Kremlin’s chief of staff.
Sergei Ivanov explained on Russian television that Russia is boosting its naval presence in the region “primarily” to organize an evacuation of Russians from Syria should anything threaten them.
While Russia has claimed innocent intentions with its ships, the increased naval presence has lead to fears of a larger international conflict pitting the United States against Russia again. Russia has voted against military intervention in Syria several times. It also took the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the latest reported chemical weapons attack.
The United States believes that the attack was carried out by the Assad regime. However, Russia has cautioned to wait until the United Nations publishes the test results from several samples taken at the alleged attack site. President Vladimir Putin added that the United States’ proof of the regime’s involvement isn’t concrete.
Putin also warned on Wednesday that an attack from the United States on Syria would be an act of “aggression,” unless it was made after a consensus with the United Nations. It is unclear how close the Russian warships will be stationed to the United States’ vessels.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]