MOSCOW, September 20 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian Black Sea Fleet’s Moskva warship has arrived to lead Russia’s naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea, a fleet spokesperson said Friday.
“The Moskva missile cruiser has joined warships in Russia’s task force in the eastern Mediterranean following a voyage from the Atlantic Ocean,” Capt. 1st Rank Vyacheslav Trukhachev said.
“The cruiser hosts the headquarters of the operational command of the task force, which includes warships from the Black Sea, Baltic and Pacific fleets,” Trukhachev said.
The Moskva arrives fresh from a tour-of-duty in the Atlantic, which started on July 3, during which it practiced firing at surface and aerial targets, he said.
The warship also made port calls in Portugal, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Russia has been increasing its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea since it announced in December it would establish a standing task force there to protect its interests in the region.
Initial statements by Russian Defense officials did not explicitly attribute this to the ongoing civil war in Syria, but on Sept. 5, the Kremlin chief of staff said that “given the presence there of amphibious landing ships, they are intended for a possible evacuation of Russian citizens.”
Since May 1, all Russian warships in the region have been grouped into a single task force under a dedicated offshore maritime zone operational command.
Russia’s naval task force in the eastern Mediterranean currently comprises 10 warships: the guided-missile cruiser Moskva, the destroyers Smetlivy and Admiral Panteleyev, the frigate Neustrashimy and the assault landing ships Nikolai Filchenkov, Peresvyet, Admiral Nevelskoi, Minsk, Novocherkassk and Alexander Shabalin.
The Black Sea Fleet assault landing ship Yamal is expected to join Russia’s Mediterranean Sea task force by the end of September.
Russia’s Pacific Fleet flagship, the Varyag missile cruiser, which left Vladivostok Wednesday on a tour-of-duty in the Indian Ocean, may join the Mediterranean task force later this year, if necessary, Navy sources told RIA Novosti on Thursday.