MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin says Russia will permanently keep a navy squadron in the Mediterranean Sea to protect its interests.
Speaking at Thursday's meeting with the military brass, Putin said the move shouldn't be interpreted as saber-rattling. He said the Mediterranean is a "strategically important region, where we have interests connected with ensuring Russia's national security."
Gen. Valery Gerasimov said Russian squadron currently deployed to the area consists of 16 navy ships. The Defense Ministry said it would regularly rotate them to keep a constant presence of about a dozen ships.
Russia has a navy base in the Syrian port of Tartus, the only such outpost outside the ex-Soviet Union, and its ships have been making regular visits to the Mediterranean in a show of support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.