MOSCOW Jan 2 Russian warships have embarked on
a long voyage to the Black and Mediterranean seas to take part
in what the Defence Ministry said would be the largest naval
exercise in decades.
It said on Wednesday that ships from its Northern, Baltic,
Black Sea and Pacific fleets would stage the exercise at the end
of the month to test their ability to act together outside
Its website said the training exercise would also include
anti-terrorism and anti-piracy drills.
"A Navy exercise on such a scale is being staged for the
first time in recent decades," the ministry said, without giving
other details such as how many ships would take part.
Russia regularly stages naval war games involving different
fleets, and in August sent ships to the Mediterranean for a
combined training exercise.
State-owned RIA Novosti news agency said that that exercise
had involved three large amphibious assault ships, two frigates,
a destroyer and two support ships.
Moscow has been trying to strengthen its military presence
in the Mediterranean region.
President Vladimir Putin, a former operative for the Soviet
Union's KGB national security agency, says Russia needs a
stronger army to protect it from foreign attempts to stoke
conflicts around its borders.
Russia plans to spend 23 trillion roubles ($753 billion)
over a decade to modernise the former superpower's armed forces,
which underwent a decade of spending cuts after the fall of the
Soviet Union in 1991.
The Defence Ministry did not say if the coming deployment
was connected to the conflict in Syria. Moscow has been a
staunch supporter of President Bashar al-Assad and his largest
Last month, a naval source told Interfax news agency that
Russia was sending warships to the Mediterranean in case it
needed to evacuate citizens trapped by the civil war in Syria.
Also in December, Itar-Tass and Interfax cited military
sources as saying two landing craft had left a Black Sea port
and would call at Russia's naval supply and maintenance facility
in the Syrian port of Tartous.
($1 = 30.55 Russian roubles)
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, edited by Richard Meares)