MOSCOW Jan 20 Russia said it started its
largest naval exercises in years over the weekend, in war games
analysts said would let it flex its military muscle and
underline its interest in Syria, where Moscow has a
At least eight warships from Russia's Northern, Baltic and
Black Sea fleets were taking part in the manoeuvres in the
Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the defence ministry said.
The announcement did not mention Syria, but Andrei Frolov, a
naval expert at Moscow military think-tank CAST, said last week
the drill was probably meant to remind the West of Russia's
links to Syria, where it has repeatedly argued against outside
intervention in an uprising.
Russia has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main
foreign protector during a 22-month revolt against his rule and
also his biggest arms supplier.
Moscow leases a naval maintenance and supply facility at the
Syrian port of Tartous. Two Russian ships heading for the naval
exercise picked up munitions on their way to Tartous, news
agencies reported on Thursday.
The exercises, which also involved other support craft and
long-range aircraft, were the biggest of its kind since the
collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian officials have
They would run until Jan. 29, the defence ministry said in a
statement late on Saturday.
The exercise also comes as Russia aims to increase its naval
presence - earlier this month it inaugurated the first of a new
class of submarine it will rely upon for decades as a bulwark of
its strategic nuclear force.
President Vladimir Putin vowed to rebuild Russia's sea power
after a period of shrinkage following the 1991 Soviet collapse.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by