Russia has dispatched two naval vessels to Syria in order to protect its nationals in the country, as well as the naval base in the port city of Tartus, according to the Interfax news agency.

This will be the first time since the uprising against Bashar al-Assad erupted 15 months ago that Moscow is sending additional troops to Syria.

Russia has been Assad’s most steadfast supporter, repeatedly quashing efforts by the U.N. to condemn the Damascus regime and warning Western and Arab states not to intervene militarily in Syria.