Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country plans to keep a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea, citing the instability caused by the Syrian civil war.
“This is a strategically important region,” Putin said Thursday at a meeting with military commanders. “We have our national interests here, linked to the need to maintain national security."
"Resuming a permanent Russian military naval presence in the Mediterranean sea isn’t saber rattling,” he said.
Russia's 16-ship fleet will visit Syrian ports, the only ports Russia maintains outside of the former Soviet Union. It began stepping up patrols in the Mediterranean after the outbreak of the 2-year-old conflict in Syria.
In March, the defense ministry moved to upgrade the fleet to a standing force, and Putin ordered a large-scale exercise involving 36 ships.
The last time Russia maintained a permanent presence in the Mediterranean was before the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago.