Russian special forces have arrived in the Syrian Mediterranean port city of Tartus, opposition sources told Al Arabiya on Monday.
Israeli-based open source military intelligence website DEBKAfile has also reported that two Russian naval vessels have anchored at the Syrian port of Tartus.
The website cited reports from the Russian Black Sea headquarters at Sevastopol. The mission of the vessels was not disclosed, but one was reported to be carrying a unit of “anit-terrorist marines” and the other, a military tanker which joined “a Russian naval reconnaissance and surveillance ship already tied up in Tartus.”
The Syrian port of Tartus is now the only naval base Russia has outside the former Soviet Union. A Russian navy squadron made a call there in January in what was seen by many as a show of support for Assad.
Also in January, a Russian ship allegedly carrying tons of munitions made a dash for Syria after telling officials in EU member Cyprus, where it had made an unexpected stop, that it was heading for Turkey. Turkish officials said the ship had instead charted course for Tartus.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly previously said that Russian military and technical personnel were present Syrian and said his country will abide by existing contracts to deliver weapons to Syria despite Assad’s yearlong crackdown on the opposition.
Antonov said Russia’s supply of weapons to Syria is in line with international law and will continue. “Russian-Syrian military cooperation is perfectly legitimate,” he said.
“The only thing that worries us today is the security of our citizens,” Antonov said in a reference to Russian military personnel in Syria that are training the Syrians in the use of weapons supplied by Russia.
He declined to say how many of them are currently stationed in Syria.
“It’s part of our contractual obligations,” said Antonov, who oversees military technical cooperation with foreign countries. “When we supply weapons, we have to provide training.”
Antonov dismissed previous allegations that Russia has sent special forces officers to assist government forces. “There are no (Russian) special forces with rifles and grenade launchers running around,” he said.
Support for daily ceasefires
Russia’s foreign minister, meanwhile, voiced clear support for a plan for daily humanitarian ceasefires in Syria and promised Moscow would press President Bashar al-Assad’s government to accept it, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "clearly agreed to and was supportive of" the idea of a daily two-hour cessation of hostilities to allow for life-saving aid operations, ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger told Reuters after talks with Lavrov.
Asked whether Lavrov had promised that Russia would pressure Syria’s government to accept the plan, he said: "Yes, very much so."
Russia has shielded Syria, its last ally in the Arab world, from U.N. sanctions over the Assad regime’s bloody suppression of an uprising against his government.
Moscow has been a steadfast ally of Syria since Soviet times, when it was led by the current president’s father, Hafez Assad, and has long supplied Damascus with aircraft, missiles, tanks and other heavy weapons