Russia has sent a naval flotilla of seven warships led by an anti-submarine destroyer to its naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.
The Admiral Chabanenko and three landing craft have left their home port of Severomorsk in the Arctic Circle on their way to the Mediterranean where they will be joined by the Russian patrol ship Yaroslav Mudry as well as an assistance vessel, a military source told the agency.
The patrol ship Smetlivy from the Russian Black Sea Fleet's base in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol is also on its way to Tartus, Interfax added.
“The program of the voyage includes a call in the Syrian port of Tartus,” the unnamed source told the news agency.
Interfax quoted the military source as saying the ships were carrying marines on a training mission as well as food, water and fuel for Russia’s naval maintenance and repair base in Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus.
It is Moscow’s only naval base outside of the former Soviet Union and its navy regularly sends supplies there.
Moscow has been the major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he battles an armed uprising, but the source quoted by Interfax news agency said the ships’ mission had nothing to do with the conflict.
The destroyer Smetlivy, which patrolled the waters off the coast of Syria in April and May, was seen leaving the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on Tuesday morning.
“Smetlivy is leaving for Syria today... The vessel is expected to reach the Turkish straits tomorrow morning,” the navy source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A Russian Black Sea Fleet spokesman said the ship had been dispatched, but declined to confirm its destination. “The vessel has gone to sea, I cannot tell you anything else,” spokesman Vyacheslav Trukhachyov said.
The military source told Interfax that three landing ships and an anti-submarine destroyer from Russia’s Northern fleet had left the port of Severomorsk and were headed for Tartus.
In response, the White House said that the United States said it is aware of a Russian naval flotilla headed for a Syrian port but does not yet see cause for concern.
“We currently have no reason to believe this move is anything out of the ordinary but we refer you to the Russian government for more details,” Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told AFP.
Russia, which has blocked Western-led attempts to have the U.N. Security Council impose harsh sanctions on Assad’s government, has been a major arms supplier to Damascus.
But a Russian official was reported on Monday as saying that Moscow was suspending arms deliveries while the conflict continued.
Late last year, Russia sent a flotilla of warships to waters off Syria including flagship aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.