Russia is preparing to send Marines to defend its naval base in Syria amid continued unrest in the Arab state, Interfax reported Monday, citing a Navy source.
The information confirms reports in Russian and Western media Friday.
Two large troop transport vessels and a rescue tugboat will defend Russian citizens and infrastructure in the port city of Tartus and also evacuate equipment if necessary, the source said.
Tartus is home to Russia’s only naval base outside the former Soviet Union.
The report did not say when the ships would arrive or how many Marines would accompany them.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to Syria, warning that the shipment “will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected Clinton’s claim, saying that Russia is only shipping air defense systems under previously signed contracts.
Some experts alleged that the helicopters Clinton said were en route to Syria could be old ones that underwent maintenance in Russia.
Russia has shipped billions of dollars worth of missiles, combat jets, tanks, artillery and other military gear to Syria over more than four decades. Moscow says that it’s currently providing Assad with weapons intended to protect Syria from a foreign invasion and that it is not delivering the kinds of weapons needed to fight lightly armed insurgents in cities.
Here is a brief look at some of the weapons systems Russia has recently shipped to Syria or pledged to deliver in the future, according to official statements and Russian media reports. Russian government officials have remained secretive about the arms trade, so a complete list of Russian weapons and other military gear sent to Syria is unavailable:
Igor Sevastyanov, a deputy head of the Rosoboronexport state arms trader, said last week that the Pantsyr contract is still being implemented. Sevastyanov didn’t offer specifics, but Russian media reports have said that the contract envisaged the delivery of 36 such units, which include a truck mounted with guns and missiles together with a radar.
The Kremlin insists that the continuing Russian arms sales don’t violate international agreements, and it has scoffed at Western demands to halt the trade.
A Russian ship carrying a load of weapons arrived in Syria just a few weeks ago amid international anger over Assad’s refusal to honor a UN-sponsored peace plan.
The new Russian weapons supplies add to Syria’s massive arsenal of hundreds of Soviet-built combat jets, attack helicopters and missiles and thousands of tanks, other armored vehicles and artillery systems. Russia said it also has military advisers in Syria training the Syrians to use the Russian weapons, and it has helped repair and maintain Syrian weapons.