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Russia denies naval activity on Syria's coasts

While Moscow denies arrival of Russian navy shops at Syrian coasts, Russian news agencies confirms presence of tanker

Ahmed Eleiba , Tuesday 20 Mar 2012

Russia’s defence minister denied the arrival of Russian navy vessels at Syria's coasts while not denying that military activity is taking place near Syrian coasts, according to several observers.

Ibrahim Nawwar, a former consultant for the United Nations delegation in Iraq, met with the Russian ambassador in Egypt Serge Kerbetchenko who assured him that any military activity on Russia’s part would be used as an excuse to intervene in Syria, reiterating that Moscow is adamantly opposed to any foreign interference there.

Military observers said that there is naval activity at Syrian coasts, especially at the port of Tartus on the Mediterranean which Russia has been renovating for the past two years. They observed that there is more activity there than in recent months. Russian news agency Interfax confirmed reported that the Russian tanker Iman has in fact docked in Tartus having come from Ukrainian port Sevastopol after completing a supply mission in the Black Sea.

Interfax said a Russian Marines battalion was on board, a claim denied by Russian authorities, who acknowledged that the ship was on the trip but said only a civilian group was on board on a mission to supply the main crew at Tartus with food. They were accompanied by a security team, said the Russian defence ministry.

Other observers doubted the validity of the Russian statements about Iman, especially after the appearance of the Russian surveillance ship Ekvator at the scene of activity in the Mediterranean Sea.

Military expert Gen. Talaat Muslim said that “Russia’s objective is to prove its presence on the ground and that it is a main party in the Syria issue … a political move cannot be taken without it due to the veto and today it cannot be surpassed due to its military presence on the ground.”

The port of Tartus is geographically exposed and thus needs to be secured, said Egyptian military expert Brigadier General Safwat El-Zayat. El-Zayat suggested that the reason for the Russian activity at the port might be explained by concerns that the Free Syrian Army would reach the port.

If humanitarian aid operations are carried out under the supervision of the UN and pass through Lebanon’s Arida crossing with Syria or the Kleiat airport in the north, Russia's cooperation would be required. However, if  Russia closes the coasts, the alternative plan would be to go through Turkey, where supply lines would be made in northern Syria towards Jisr al-Shughur, currently the safest Syrian location and then towards Aleppo and Idlib.

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