Moscow - Three Russian naval ships were sailing toward
Syria in the eastern Mediterranean on Friday and a fourth was on its way, the
Interfax news agency reported, citing a source at navy headquarters.
Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said on Thursday
that Russia was boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea, but
primarily in order to organise a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria.
He did not say how many vessels were being sent.
The prospect of increased Russian naval presence near
Syria has stoked fears of a larger international conflict if the United States
orders airstrikes over a 21 August chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus,
the Syrian capital. The US already has numerous war ships in the Mediterranean.
Two Russian amphibious landing vessels and a
reconnaissance ship have passed through the Dardanelles strait, according to
the report carried by Interfax, a privately owned agency known for its
independent contacts within Russia's armed forces.
Three Russian war ships were seen sailing through the
Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, on Thursday. It was not immediately clear if they
were the same three vessels, although that seemed likely.
Interfax reported that another landing ship had left the
Black Sea port of Sevastopol on Friday morning and was to pick up a
"special cargo" in Novorossiysk before sailing toward the eastern
The state RIA Novosti news agency also said that the
landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov would be headed toward Syria after picking up
cargo in Novorossiysk, which it said would take several days.
The three ships reported to have passed through the
Dardanelles are the Novocherkassk and Minsk landing vessels and Priazovye
The defence ministry said it was unable immediately to
confirm the ships' departure.
The foreign ministry issued a statement on Friday,
warning the US and its allies against striking any chemical weapons storage
facilities in Syria.
"That would create the threat of releasing highly
toxic chemical agents, with corresponding consequences for the civilian
population and the environment," the statement said.
can't be excluded that as a result of such a reckless action militants or
terrorists could gain access to chemical weapons. This is a step toward
proliferation of chemical weapons not only across Syrian territory but beyond