As world leaders met in St. Petersburg for the annual G20 summit, Russia's navy maneuvered several warships into the Mediterranean near Syria.
Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said the amphibious landing ships were in place for the possible evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria.
"Our actions are in strict compliance with international law and the UN Charter," added Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Anotov, defending the action as "a legitimate, natural and predictable reaction to the situation developing."
The maneuver involves two ships from the Black Sea Fleet, the frigate Smetlivyi and landing ship Filchenkov, an electronic surveillance vessel, a high-ranking source at the Defense Ministry said. Earlier this summer, Russian news agencies reported the navy was moving an anti-submarine ship and missile cruiser into waters near Syria.
Russia's move comes amid continued tensions between the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin, who have expressed continued skepticism that Bashar al-Assad is solely responsible for the chemical weapons attacks in Syria, and the United States, which has unequivocally concluded the weapons were used by the Assad regime against rebelling civilians.
While on his overseas trip, President Barack Obama has embarked on a campaign to drum up international support for military action against the Assad regime, and has meet with stiff resistance from the Kremlin.
The U.S. has positioned five destroyers and a submarine, all armed with cruise missiles, ready to strike on Syria at a moment's notice.