The Russian navy is increasing its presence in the Mediterranean Sea in the face of growing tensions related to the war in Syria, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said on Wednesday.
The Russian Federation provided military support considered essential for Syrian government forces, who are expected to intensify the offensive in northern Idlib province, the country’s last major rebel stronghold.
“We will not speculate on the intention of the Russian fleet, but it is important that all actors in the region exercise restraint and refrain from worsening an already disastrous humanitarian situation in Syria,” NATO’s chief spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, said Wednesday.
The agency reports that at least eight ships, including a missile ship and two missile submarines, have joined the Russian fleet in the last three weeks, with local press claiming that there are about 15 Russian navy ships in the Mediterranean.
Moscow reiterated that Syrian terrorists are preparing for a chemical weapons attack on Idlib as a provocation for the West to attack Syrian forces.
The Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets published that the naval increase was related to this idea. “The United States and its allies have forced Russia to send a powerful naval group to the Mediterranean,” the publication wrote on Tuesday.
State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the Russian reports “false-flag-type reporting.”
“We’ve seen that before where they try to put the blame — they try to put the onus on other groups and we don’t buy into that,” she said Wednesday during a regular briefing with reporters in Washington.
According to Western countries Syrian government forces carried out chemical attacks during the country’s war. The United States has pledged to counter-attack if Syrian forces use chemical weapons in Idlib.
Earlier this year, the United States led an attack on Damascus, alongside the United Kingdom and France, against alleged chemical attacks in the country. Most of the missiles launched against Syrian territory were neutralized by anti-aircraft defense systems.
Both Syria and Russia deny that government forces have used chemical weapons