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Recently there have been multiple reports that Russia may be backing away from its support of Syrian President Bash al-Assad, but Moscow’s warships seem to be singing a different tune.Agence France-Presse and Interfax report that at the end of November two Russian warships made a rare visit to Syria’s port of Tartus – Russia’s only remaining international military base after the Soviet Union collapsed – in a move that separates Moscow from the recent string of Western actions regarding the war-torn country.
Michael Weiss, co-chair of the London-based foreign policy think tank Russian Studies centre, told U.S. News & World Report that the presence of the navy ships has three purposes: Russia wants to run weapons and materiel into Syria, take Russian nationals out of the country, and send a signal to the United States that it still backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Leaked flight plans from the Syrian Foreign Ministry indicate that Moscow recently sent 240 tons of newly printed Syrian money and four shipments of refurbished helicopters to Damascus.
The landing ships Novocherkassk and Saratov docked in the port of Tartus for several hours to refuel and receive minor repairs, but their crews did not go ashore. Interfax noted that Russia retains a small permanent personnel presence at the facility, which they call a “point of material-technical supply” for its navy since it is too shallow for large ships to dock on shore.
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Last month Russia sent six warships to the coast of Gaza after the U.S. ordered three warships on reserve to the coast of Israel and indicated that it would increase its military presence in the East Mediterranean.Furthermore Russia has criticised NATO’s decision to deploy Patriot missiles on the Turkish border and said U.S. claims that the Syrian military is prepared to use chemical weapons are exaggerated.
On the other hand, The Washington Post reports that Moscow’s top diplomat will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the U.N. envoy for Syria on Thursday to discuss the 21-month-conflict.
And Russian diplomats reportedly said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost all hope of victory or escape.
The Post notes that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants guarantees that Russia will keep its naval base and preferential trade ties even in a post-Assad Syria.