The Russian military, which has recently become involved in the Syrian civil war, has sent its main Black Sea battle ship, Moskva, to take part in extensive naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, according to a Russian ministry of defense statement. The exercises come amid increased turmoil in the Middle East as Syrian President Bashar Assad's authoritarian regime fights against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, with help from Kremlin military forces that have supplied aircraft, battle tanks and other heavy weaponry over the past few weeks.
“In the course of the training activity, the Russian ships will practice organization of antisubmarine, anti-ship and air defense, as well as search-and-rescue activities and rendering assistance to a distressed vessel,” read the statement from the Russian defense ministry, according to a report Thursday from the U.S. Naval Institute, a Maryland-based think tank. “During the exercise, the military seamen are to perform over 40 different combat tasks, including missile and artillery firings at surface and aerial targets.”
A variety of ships, including the Moskva, were reported to have left from Russia's Sevastopol port in Crimea Thursday, according to the independent Turkish ship-spotting blog Bosphorus Naval News. The ships will transit through the Black Sea and then onward to the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
The Russian ministry of defense said the exercises would commence in the next few days and run until October. Russia reestablished its Mediterranean fleet in 2012 after it was disbanded at the end of the Cold War in 1991.
The Russian navy has recently extended its ability to operate in the Mediterranean by partially reestablishing an old Cold War base known as Tartus that lies on Syria's west coast. That, along with an air base in northwestern Syria, has allowed Moscow easier military supply routes into Syria.
The four-year-long Syrian war has seen more than 250,000 people die and has displaced more than 4 million others.