MOSCOW: Russia said it deployed its new frigate with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles to the Mediterranean Sea on Monday, a few months after Moscow had reinforced its naval forces off Syrian cost.
“The Black Sea Navy Fleet’s frigate Admiral Makarov left (Navy base) Sevastopol and laid a course for the Black Sea straits. The vessel will be acting in the standing naval force of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in statement.
Russia has in the past fired Kalibr cruise missiles from frigates and submarines stationed in the Mediterranean Sea at militant targets to support Assad’s military offensives.
The ministry did not say whether the frigate was supposed to take part in the military operation in Syria where Moscow has backed President Bashar Assad since entering the war in 2015.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in May that Russian military vessels with Kalibr cruise missiles would be on permanent standby in the Mediterranean to counter what he said was the terrorist threat in Syria.
Russia deployed several warships to the Mediterranean this summer, including the Admiral Grigorovich, Admiral Essen and Pytlivy frigates, along with landing ship Nikolai Filchenkov and the Vishny Volochek missile corvette.
The Izvestia newspaper said in August that Russia had gathered its largest naval group in the Mediterranean Sea since 2015, including 10 vessels, most of them armed with long-range Kalibr cruise missiles.
More vessels were on the way, the newspaper said, and two submarines had also been deployed.
In Damascus, an envoy from Russia and Assad on Sunday discussed “removing the obstacles” to forming a constitutional committee demanded by international powers to help end the seven-year war, the presidency said.
The leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany, and France last week in Istanbul called for the committee to be formed by the end of the year to discuss a post-war constitution, “paving the way for free and fair elections” in Syria.
On Sunday, Assad held talks with Russian envoy Alexander Lavrentiev on “forming the committee to discuss the current constitution,” the presidency said in a statement.
They agreed “to continue joint Syrian-Russian work toward removing the obstacles still in the way of forming this committee,” it said.
A Turkish-Russian deal for Syria’s last major opposition bastion of Idlib has revived a push toward a diplomatic solution to the country’s conflict, with international efforts focused on setting up the 150-member committee.
Under a UN plan, the regime would choose 50 of the committee members, the Syrian opposition another 50 and the UN would nominate the final 50, composed of representatives of civil society and technical experts.
But last week, Damascus rejected a UN list presented by the world body’s outgoing envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura.
Instead, the Damascus regime is to draw up its own list, along with Russia, Iran and Turkey, according to de Mistura, who is set to step down at the end of the month.
Even if the committee is formed, analysts say the task of discussing a post-war constitution will be difficult.
The opposition has pushed for an entirely new constitution, but the regime has said it will only discuss altering the current one.
Assad’s forces have notched up a series of victories against fighters since Russia intervened militarily on its side in 2015, and now control almost two-thirds of the country.
Syria’s war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since the war broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.