Russian warships begin military exercises

Dec. 25, 2012 at 4:40 PM

MOSCOW, Dec. 25 (UPI) -- About a dozen Russian warships are conducting a large-scale strategic exercise in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Aden, a Russian military leader said.

The operations include docking at several foreign ports of call, including Tartus, Syria, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported Tuesday.

"This part of the world's oceans is very important from the point of view of Russia's geopolitical interests, including the fact that the Russian Navy has a logistical base" in Syria, the representative of the General Staff of Russia's Armed Forces -- whose name was not reported -- said Tuesday.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia's deputy defense minister, dismissed suggestions Monday that commando units and military equipment were aboard ships bound for Syria. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich confirmed Russia has a contingency plan to evacuate Russian citizens from Syria, if necessary.

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