SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) - Russia dispatched a destroyer-class warship to Syria on Tuesday, a source in the Russian Navy told Reuters, and another military source was quoted as saying four more Russian ships were en route to the violence-torn country.
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.
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 Tartous.
It is Moscow’s only naval base outside of the former Soviet Union and its navy regularly sends supplies there.
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 Tartous.
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.
Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Mark Heinrich