Russia to Build on Mediterranean Fleet by Drafting in Battleships

Russia has revealed its intention to build on its presence in the Mediterranean Sea by increasing its fleet in the region to up to 10 battleships.

The additional deployment will primarily concentrate on the Eastern Mediterranean, the area nearest the Syrian crisis zone, Victor Chirkov, the head of the Russian Navy explained.

“The task is crystal clear: to avoid a slightest threat to the security of the state. This is a general practice of all fleets around the world, to be there when a tension level increases,” Chirkov, who holds the rank of Admiral of the Fleet.

“They are all going to act on the operational command plan of the offshore maritime zone. Russia will be building up its fleet until it is deemed sufficient to perform the task.”

Russia has retained a constant presence in the Sea as a matter of policy since the end of last year, when the Syrian struggle began to escalate from an offshoot of the Arab Spring into an all-out civil war. Currently, it has seven warships patrolling the region.

Moscow’s announcement that it intends to add to its Mediterranean presence was compounded by its decision to send in its flagship missile cruiser, the Moskva – a powerful destroyer fitted with Vulkan missiles, weapons specifically designed to disable large vessels. The ship is being called in from the Black Sea, a region which contains a notoriously high number of Russian naval vessels, and is expected to arrive in the Mediterranean sometime over the weekend.

Chirkov noted that approximately 80 Russian naval vessels are currently operating in international waters, ready to be called to action.

Russia’s decision to move additional ships into the region comes despite it denying at the beginning of the month that it intended to beef up its presence.

At the time, the country’s naval command had criticised the US for adding to its compliment in the Sea. On September 3 the US Navy announced that it would add two warships to the three that were already patrolling the region, significantly boosting its firepower. Together the five now in the region boast upwards of 200 Tomahawk missiles.

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Chemical Weapons Used in Syria – UN Report

UN human rights inspectors say they have “reasonable grounds” to believe that the organisation’s weapons watchdog has uncovered evidence of chemical weapons usage in Syria, although they have not placed the blame on either side, saying that it could have been the forces of Syrian Prime Minister Bashar al-Assad or opposition rebels who made use of the weapons, which are banned under international law.

The team says it made the discovery when it was examining four purported toxic attack scenes in the war-torn country back in March.

“The conflict in Syria has reached new levels of brutality. War crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations continue apace,” the inspectors said in their 29-page report.

The report, the fifth made by the team since civil war broke out in Syria over two years ago, was compiled using information gathered in more than 450 interviews carried out between January and May, as well as local reports and YouTube footage.

The team stressed that the attacks’ perpetrators must be brought to justice stating that “The documented violations are consistent and widespread; (there is) evidence of a concerted policy implemented by the leaders of Syria’s military and government”.

The report criticised both the insurgent rebels and the forces of under siege premier Bashar al-Assad for grotesque tactics, with show trials and subsequent executions – many involving innocent civilians – among the intimidatory tactics used by both sides. Eighty thousand fighters and civilians have lost their lives since hostilities began in March 2011.

Speaking after the release of the report, the chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry commented on the report’s findings, saying that it is not possible for the body to determine exactly which agents had been used. “There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator,” Paulo Pinheiro told a conference in Geneva, Switzerland, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Meanwhile, in a related development, the French foreign ministry has said it believes the banned nerve agent sarin has been used by a side in the conflict – though it cannot be sure which one. The statement, reported on by Al Jazeera, quotes French foreign minister Laurent Fabius as saying that tests conducted by French officials – which have since been handed to the UN — “show the presence of sarin in various samples”. The ministry said that it is unacceptable for war criminals to continue to escape unpunished.

The revelations come as another UN report released this week urged the international community to refrain from assisting sides in the conflict, warning of a further escalation of violence. The caution came on the same day that Moscow defended its decision to supply the Assad regime with a fresh battery of missiles, a move it explained it took in response to the European-led initiative to arm the rebels aiming to drive Assad out of power.

“There is a human cost to the political impasse that has come to characterise the response of the international community to the war in Syria,” the report read. It went on to ask the international community to refrain from providing weaponry to either side in the conflict “given the clear risk that the arms will be used to commit serious violations of international human rights or humanitarian law.”