Russia to Send Marines to Syria
By Vladimir Isachenkov
The Associated Press
June 18, 2013
Clearing House - "AP"
-- MOSCOW —
Two Russian navy ships are completing preparations to sail to
Syria with a unit of marines on a mission to protect Russian
citizens and the nation's base there, a news report said Monday.
The deployment appears to reflect Moscow's growing concern about
Syrian President Bashar Assad's future.
The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Russian navy
official as saying that the two amphibious landing vessels,
Nikolai Filchenkov and Caesar Kunikov, will be heading shortly
to the Syrian port of Tartus, but didn't give a precise date.
The official said the ships will carry an unspecified number of
marines to protect Russians in Syria and evacuate some equipment
from Tartus, if necessary.
Each ship is capable of carrying up to 300 marines and a dozen
tanks, according to Russian media reports. That would make it
the largest known Russian troop deployment to Syria, signaling
that Moscow is becoming increasingly uneasy about Syria's slide
toward civil war.
Interfax also quoted a deputy Russian air force chief as saying
that Russia will give the necessary protection to its citizens
"We must protect our citizens," Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Gradusov was
quoted as saying. "We won't abandon the Russians and will
evacuate them from the conflict zone, if necessary."
Asked whether the air force would provide air support for the
navy squadron, Gradusov said they will act on orders.
The Defense Ministry had no immediate comment, and an official
at the Black Sea fleet declined to comment.
Asked if the Pentagon is concerned about the plan, officials in
Washington said it depends on the mission. They had no comment
on the stated goal of protecting Russian citizens and the
Russian military position there, something the U.S. would do in
a foreign country if in a similar situation.
"I think we'd leave it to the Russian Ministry of Defense to
speak to their naval movements and their national security
decision-making process," said Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon
spokesman, adding that it's not the business of the U.S. Defense
Department to "endorse or disapprove of an internal mission like
What would greatly concern the U.S., he said, is if the Russian
naval ships were taking weapons or sending people to support the
Assad regime in its crackdown.
"The secretary of defense (Leon Panetta) remains concerned about
any efforts by external countries or external organizations to
supply lethal arms to the Syrian regime so that they can turn
around and use those to kill their own people," Kirby said.
Tartus is Russia's only naval base outside the former Soviet
Union, serving Russian navy ships on missions to the
Mediterranean and hosting an unspecified number of military
Russian officials have said that other Russian navy ships that
have called at Tartus this year also had marines on board, but
it has remained unclear whether they rotated the troops at
Tartus or simply protected the ships during their mission and
Russia also has an unspecified number of military advisers
teaching Syrians how to use Russian weapons, which make up the
bulk of Syrian arsenals.
Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East, and
has been a major customer of Soviet and Russian weapons
industries for the last four decades, acquiring billions of
dollars worth of combat jets, helicopters, missiles, armored
vehicles and other military gear.
Russia has shielded Assad's regime from international sanctions
over its violent crackdown on protests. Moscow also has
continued to provide Syria with arms, despite Western calls for
a halt in supplies.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton issued a harsh
reprimand of Russia last week, when she said that Moscow
"dramatically" escalated the crisis in Syria by sending attack
helicopters there. The State Department acknowledged later the
helicopters she accused Moscow of sending were actually
refurbished ones already owned by the Assad regime, but Russia
was clearly annoyed, and the spat further fueled tensions ahead
of President Barack Obama's meeting with Russian President
Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Mexico on
Opposition groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed
since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with mostly
peaceful protests against Assad's autocratic regime. But a
ferocious government crackdown led many to take up arms, and the
conflict is now an armed insurgency.
Russia has criticized Assad for slow reforms and heavy-handed
use of force, but has strongly opposed any sanctions or foreign
interference in Syrian affairs.
Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report from Washington
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