Published: Fri, August 31, 2018
Global | By Enrique Rogers

Russian Federation to hold Mediterranean naval drills as Syria tensions rise

Russian Federation to hold Mediterranean naval drills as Syria tensions rise

UN Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The warning does not seem to be holding back Damascus or its chief ally, Moscow.

The prospect of a massive Russian-backed offensive in a province that is home to some three million people - half of them already displaced from other parts of Syria - has raised fears of a new humanitarian tragedy.

The exercise comes amid high tension in the region, with Moscow claiming that the United States is deploying additional military assets towards Syria for a likely missile attack against Syrian government forces.

It came shortly after Russia's Defense Ministry told Russian news agencies that Russia will deploy 25 ships, including a missile cruiser, and 30 jets for the maneuvers in the first week of September. "In fact, more than a million of the civilians now living in Idlib previously fled regime control".

The ministry said the drills would involve carrying out anti-aircraft, anti-submarine and anti-mining exercises.

Syrian opposition fighters blew up bridges Friday linking areas they control to government-held territories in northwestern Syria in anticipation of a military offensive against their last stronghold in the country, activists and a war monitor said.

Signs of the buildup have been on display for weeks. The boats are mostly smaller frigates, but Russian officials have described this as the largest naval presence they've had near Syria since 2015.

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The Syrian port of Tartous is critical for that Russian deployment.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia's Ambassador to the United States, said earlier on Thursday that he had told US officials that Moscow was concerned by signs that the United States was preparing new strikes on Syria.

The U.N. worries that the offensive could force 2.5 million people toward the Turkish border.

The tensions are underscored by the Trump administration's determination to enforce a "red line" against chemical weapons in Syria.

"We need to reduce the risk of unexpected escalation, and definitely look with great concern about any potential use of chemical weapons or any type of weaponized chlorine", he said.

Since April 2017, the administration has twice authorized American strikes targeting Syrian forces in response to chemical weapons attacks that US officials blamed on the Assad regime.

Analysts say Russian forces will take that factor into account during their air and sea exercises.

Ankara also fears a major offensive could unleash a new flood of refugees across the Turkish border, which the United Nations also warned of.

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