Moscow: Russian Navy warships will be sent to defend Russian merchant vessels in the event of a blockade due to the situation in Syria, an official said.
"The fleet will be sent on task to guarantee the safety of our ships, to prevent anyone interfering with them in the event of a blockade. I remind you, there are no limits," said Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy head of Russia's military technical cooperation agency.
The Defence Ministry has said a Russian naval task force was on its way to carry out naval exercises in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea.
The task force comprises warships from Russia's Northern, Baltic and Black Sea Fleets, a ministry official said.
Russian cargo ship Alaed, which was carrying a cargo of renovated Mil Mi-25 helicopter gunships to Syria, was forced to stop on June 18 and return to Russia after its insurance cover was withdrawn by a British insurer.
Dzirkaln said Russia has not embargoed its existing arms contracts with Syria and will fulfil existing contracts for air defence systems and helicopters.
The Syrian opposition has expressed concern over the departure of Russian warships to the Mediterranean as the presence of the Russian Navy near the Syrian coast could encourage the Assad regime to use even more violence against protesters.
"We have discussed this problem with Russia," said Burham Ghalioun, a senior member of the Istanbul-based opposition Syrian National Council.
"We are concerned with the fact that these manoeuvres coincide with the escalation of the situation (in Syria)," he said.
First Published: Thursday, July 12, 2012, 12:22