by Will Racke
Russian warships armed with advanced cruise missiles will be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea near Syria on a permanent basis, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.
Russia already has a significant naval presence in the area, and maintains a leased naval base at Tartus, a port city on Syria’s northern coast.
The warships will remain on “permanent standby” to counter the “remaining terrorist threat in Syria,” Russian state media quoted Putin as saying during a gathering of military and defense industry leaders at the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
Putin went on to praise the Russian navy’s role in advancing Moscow’s interests in Syria. Moscow has backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in that country’s civil war since 2015, ensuring the survival of a Middle Eastern ally and guaranteeing continued access to the strategically vital Mediterranean Sea.
Putin noted at the Sochi meeting that Russian warships near Syria will be armed with the advanced Kalibr cruise missile, a supersonic weapon that can easily evade ship-based missile defense systems. Russia has in the past fired Kalibr cruise missiles from frigates and submarines to back Syrian army offensives against Islamic militants and other rebel groups.
Putin’s announcement comes as Russia continues to build its naval strength in the eastern Mediterranean, challenging American and European dominance there. The region is now “congested” with Russian vessels, U.S. Navy Adm. James Foggo, NATO’s southern Europe commander, told The Associated Press earlier this month.
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