Russian naval build-up as Assad set for assault
Russia has deployed several frigates to the Mediterranean via the Bosphorus, an analysis of shipping traffic has shown, part of what a Russian newspaper called Moscow's largest naval build-up since it entered the Syrian conflict in 2015.
The reinforcement comes as Russia's ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is believed to be considering an assault on the last big rebel-held enclave, Idlib in the north.
Russia has accused the United States of building up its own forces in the Middle East in preparation for a possible strike on Syrian government forces.
On Saturday, the 'Admiral Grigorovich' and 'Admiral Essen' frigates sailed through Istanbul's Bosphorus towards the Mediterranean, Reuters pictures showed.
The day before, the 'Pytlivy' frigate and landing ship 'Nikolai Filchenkov' were pictured sailing through the Turkish straits that connect the Black Sea with the Mediterranean. The 'Vishny Volochek' missile corvette passed through earlier this month.
The 'Izvestia' newspaper said Russia had gathered its largest naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea since it intervened in Syria in 2015 turning the tide in Assad's favour. The force included 10 vessels, most of them armed with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles, Izvestia said, adding that more were on the way, and that two submarines had also been deployed.