Several Russian warships are bound for the Eastern Mediterranean for high-end exercises, according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defence.
The Russian Navy’s Black Sea flag-ship — the guided missile cruiser Moscow (or Moskva) — left from Sevastopol in Crimea on Thursday, according to Russian state-controlled media.
The ship follows several amphibious warships and at least one surveillance ship have transited out of the Black Sea into the Mediterranean, according to the independent Turkish ship spotting blog, Bosphorus Naval News.
According to the Thursday statement from the Russian MoD the formation will start exercises in the next several days and will run into October.
“In the course of the training activity, the Russian ships will practice organization of antisubmarine, anti-ship and air defense as well as search-and-rescue activities and rendering assistance to a distressed vessel,” read the statement from the MoD.
“During the exercise, the military seamen are to perform over 40 different combat tasks including missile and artillery firings at surface and aerial targets.”
The MoD did not specify the location of the drills but — according to one report in Agence France-Presse — the military warned away civilian aircraft from a an area between Cyrpus and the Tartus Russian naval base in Syria.
In addition to Moskow, the MoD said the exercises would include the Kashin-class guided missile destroyer Smetlivy and the Tapir-class landing ship Saratov as well as a variety of auxiliary ships.
Bosphorus Naval News tracked the signals intelligence ship Donuzlav and the Ropucha-class landing ship Novocherkassk moving out of the Black Sea.
The MoD said the exercises had nothing to do with the Russian build up of forces in Syria and been long planned — but the timing of the drill coinciding with the influx of Russian troops raises questions as to the intent of drills.
Tartus is Russia’s sole foreign naval base and the Putin government has been one of the few international supporters of the current Syrian regime of Bashar al Assad.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned a media report that said the Russians were preparing to start striking Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) targets as, “speculation that has nothing to do with reality,” according to The Associated Press.
The following is the complete Sept. 24, 2015 statement from the Russian MoD on the Eastern Mediterranean exercises.
Russian Navy to conduct exercise in the eastern part of the Mediterranean
This September and October the Russian Armed Forces will increase the combat training intensiveness conducting exercise of different scale.
According to the Training plan of the forces in the eastern part of the Mediterranean adopted in the end of 2014, an exercise with the Russian Navy formation including the Moskva missile cruiser, Smetlivy guard ship, Saratov major landing ship and the auxiliary vessels is scheduled for this period.
In the course of the training activity, the Russian ships will practice organization of antisubmarine, antiship and air defence as well as search-and-rescue activities and rendering assistance to a distressed vessel.
During the exercise, the military seamen are to perform over 40 different combat tasks including missile and artillery firings at surface and aerial targets.
To provide safety navigation, the exercise zone was declared dangerous for civil aircraft and ships according the international law.