Russia has been expanding its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean ahead of Syrian government forces’ expected offensive on the final rebel and jihadist stronghold in Syria, the Idlib Governorate. From 1 to 8 September, the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean will carry out drills involving 25 ships and around 30 Aerospace Forces aircraft, the Russian Defense Ministry announced.
The exercise will focus on a range of tasks relating to anti-air and anti-submarine defense, as well as anti-mine protection. At the head of the fleet is the missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov. Russian news outlet Izvestia reports that the current number of Russian ships in the Mediterranean is a record since the start of Moscow’s intervention in Syria.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the exercise is connected to the “complicated” situation in Idlib.
There are an estimated three million civilians and tens of thousands of armed militants in Idlib. Latest developments indicate that the Syrian army is preparing a major offensive against the armed groups there, Deutsche Presse-Agentur writes. The UN Security Council is concerned that such actions will lead to a “humanitarian catastrophe”.
The United States has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that there will be severe repercussions if the Syrian government forces use chemical weapons to regain control of Idlib.
On April 14, a US-UK-France coalition launched a missile strike a range of government facilities in Syria in response to a chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma, which the coalition held the Assad regime responsible for.
Recently US National Security Advisor John Bolton said during a meeting with Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev that the US is prepared to launch another missile strike if Assad’s troops use chemical weapons again.
Russian Defense Ministry Sergey Shoygu recently announced that Russia will be conducting its largest military exercise since 1981, involving roughly 300,000 troops and 36,000 units of ground equipment. The Vostok 2018 (“East 2018”) drills will be held from 11 to 15 September.