BEIRUT: A group of warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet entered the Mediterranean sea to bolster a new regional task force, the state-owned news agency RIA Novosti quoted a fleet spokesman as saying Thursday.
“The task force has successfully passed through the Suez Channel and entered the Mediterranean. It is the first time in decades that Pacific Fleet warships enter this region,” Capt. First Rank Roman Martov said, reported the agency.
Novosti said the warships were en route to Cyprus and are scheduled to make a port call in Limassol. The warships will join Russia’s Mediterranean task force.
An official from the Russian Embassy in Beirut confirmed the ships presence and added it was a normal procedure. Russia maintains a military base in the port of Tartous, Syria and has a Mediterranean naval pressence.
The state news agency said the vessels – including the destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, the amphibious warfare ships Peresvet and Admiral Nevelskoi as well as a tanker and tug – left the port of Vladivostok on March 19.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said in April that Moscow has begun setting up a naval task force in the Mediterranean, sending several warships from the Pacific Fleet to the region, Novosti said.
A permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean was needed to defend Russia’s interests in the region, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March.
According to Novosti, a senior Defense Ministry official said the Mediterranean task force's command and control agencies will be based either in Novorossiysk, Russia, or in Sevastopol, Ukraine.
Novosti said the Soviet Union maintained its 5th Mediterranean Squadron from 1967 until 1992. It was formed to counter the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet during the Cold War, and consisted of 30-50 warships and auxiliary vessels.