December 18, 2007
Russia's navy has resumed military presence in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov reported at a Wednesday meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
The minister, quoted by the RIA-Novosti press agency, reported that a naval fleet was heading to the northeast Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, where they will remain till early February of next year. The expedition is aimed at bolstering Russia's naval presence and increasing the security of Russian navigation.
The minister said an aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser, two anti-submarine ships and a tanker departed for the Mediterranean on Wednesday, where they will be joined by a Black Sea Fleet missile cruiser and a tanker.
Serdyukov said a total of four warships and seven other vessels of Russia's Northern, Black Sea and Baltic fleets, as well as 47 planes and 10 helicopters, have been dispatched for the mission. Three exercises, involving the vessels and aircraft, are being planned.
Earlier this year, naval chief Admiral Vladimir Masorin called for restoring a permanent Russian presence in the Mediterranean, saying it was a vital zone for the Black Sea Fleet.
In the Soviet era, navy ships were based at Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus, and Russia still maintains a technical base there.
The naval expedition represents the latest effort by Putin - bolstered by a torrent of oil revenues pouring into government coffers - to breathe new life into Russia's armed forces.
Earlier this year, he ordered the military to resume regular long-range flights of strategic bombers. In recent years, Russia's bombers have resumed flights to areas off Norway and Iceland, as well as Russia's northeast corner, across the Bering Strait from Alaska several years ago.
Still, it was unclear how much of a presence the Russian ships would have, either in the Mediterranean or elsewhere. Like other branches of military, the navy, particularly its surface fleet, suffered in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, as a lack of funding resulted in ships and submarines rusting away in docks and berths.
In mid-August, Putin announced the resumption of strategic patrol flights, saying that although the country halted long-distance strategic flights to remote regions in 1992 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing economic and political chaos, other nations had continued the practice, compromising Russian national security.
Russia's strategic bombers have since carried out over 70 patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans, as well as the Black Sea, a senior Air Force official said Tuesday, adding that NATO interceptor aircraft had escorted Russian bombers during all their patrols.
Combined report - Ria Novosti, AP