Moscow eyes naval build up in West Asia

With Syria as ally, Russia is making its presence felt in the Mediterranean Sea at a time when there is fresh build up of American naval forces around Iran.

The Reuters news agency quoted Igor Belyaev, the Russian charge d’affaires in Damascus, that the Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean would increase. He added: "Russian vessels will be visiting Syria and other friendly ports more frequently. The visits are continuing."

Russia has been depending on the Syria’s port, Tartus, as the hub of its activities in the Mediterranean. Earlier reports said the Russian aircraft carrier, Kuznetsov, and its accompanying taskforce had last month docked at Tartus.

The port is strategically located as Russian ships docked their would be brought in close proximity to the forces deployed under the U.S. Sixth Fleet command. It is also a short distance away from Israel.

Analysts say the Russian envoy’s statement follows a recent visit to Moscow by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, where improvement of military ties between Russia and Syria were high on the agenda.

Meanwhile, the U.S. British and Bahraini warships have begun fresh naval manoeuvres in the Gulf waters. Western naval forces have been holding regular exercises, in anticipation of a possible threat to the Strait of Hormuz in case a war with Iran, over its nuclear programme, breaks out. According to the U.S. Navy, the exercise, codenamed Goalkeeper, would last five days.

The U.S. naval presence in the Gulf would remain heavy with the upcoming arrival of an expeditionary force, led by the aircraft carrier Iwo Jima. The warship left its base in Norfolk on Tuesday for deployment in the Mediterranean and the Gulf. It would be accompanied by warships, Carter Hall and San Antonio, used for amphibious landing of troops and helicopter operations.

[Source: The Hindu, Dubai, 29Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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