BRUSSELS – NATO says the Russian Navy is expanding its presence in the Mediterranean in the face of growing tensions over the war in Syria. Russia providedwhich are expected to launch an offensive in the northern province of Idlib, the country's last major rebel stronghold.
"We will not speculate on the intention of the Russian fleet, but it is important that all actors in the region exercise restraint and not worsen an already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria," said the main speaker of NATO, Oana Lungescu, on Wednesday.
She says some of the Russian ships are equipped with cruise missiles.
At least eight ships, including a missile cruiser and two missile submarines, have joined the Russian flotilla over the past three weeks. On Thursday, the Russian Ministry of Defense raised the stake. The state-run Russian news agency TASS said the ministry announced that its forces would deploy 25 naval vessels and 30 fighter aircraft in the Mediterranean on 1
Moscow has repeatedly claimed that Syrian rebels use ain Idlib as a provocation to bring a Western assault on Syrian troops.
The Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper said the naval construction was connected with this prospect. "The United States and its allies have forced Russia to send a powerful sailing group to the Mediterranean," wrote on Tuesday.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the Russian reports "false flag reporting."
"We've seen it earlier, where they're trying to blame – they're trying to lighten the burden on other groups, and we're not buying it," she said Wednesday during a regular meeting with reporters in Washington ,
Western countries and independent analysts say Syrian government forces have carried out a series of chemical attacks during the seven-year civil war. The US has vowed to respond when the Syrian forces use chemical weapons in Idlib. Western countries carried out strikes against Syrian government forces following an alleged chemical attack earlier this year.
Both Syria and Russia deny that government forces have ever used chemical weapons.
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