US, Russian, French and British air and naval forces arrived near the Syrian and Iranian coasts over the weekend as part of an international watch over the region as tensions continue to mount in the Middle East.
The Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov anchored at Syria’s Tartus port on the Mediterranean Sunday, accompanied by the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and frigate Yaroslav Mudry. The Admiral Kuznetsov is classed as a heavy aircraft carrier and is much better equipped to defend itself rather than light American carriers which move faster but have less defensive capabilities. In response, France ordered the French air defense destroyer Forbin to the waters off Tartus.
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is the centre of a battle group which departed the Russian Arctic in December for the eastern Mediterranean. The Kuznetsov and other ships in the support flotilla will make port call in the Syrian city of Tartus where Moscow has been carrying out renovations of naval installations in the port since 2009.
Nikolai Makarov, head of the Russian general staff, released a statement saying “This is regularly scheduled training. We are not sending the ships directly to Syria because of the crisis.”
Russia has resisted calls by western nations for an international military intervention against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has said it will not allow an international coalition to force a regime change in Syria, as was carried out in Libya.
Various military sources report a buildup opposite Iran in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea in response of Tehran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz. The United Kingdom dispatched the HMS Daring to the Sea of Oman, which is expected to arrive at the same time as the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. The HMS Daring is a Type 45 destroyer armed with new technology for shooting down missiles.
Debka intelligence sources report that the USA has resumed unmanned aerial flights over Iran as the giant RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV, took off from the USS Stenning aircraft carrier for surveillance over Iran on Saturday. The Stennis and its strike group are in the Sea of Oman at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz. Iran says that the Strait must be closed in case the European Union imposes an oil embargo.
Last Thursday (5 January) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initiated a call to Russian President Medvedev regarding the situation in the Middle East. Later Mr. Medvedev acknowledged that the tension is the subject of grave concern to the international community but held out that the region’s problems, including the crisis in Syria, can be resolved exclusively by political means, through dialogue of all the parties involved.
Medvedev and Ahmadinejad met during the 2010 Caspian Summit at Baku in November 2010. The construction of Iran’s Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant was carried out by Russian specialists.
Meanwhile the Armenian News Agency says that Iran and Russia have replaced the US Dollar with their own currencies in trade ties, as announced by a senior Iranian diplomat last Saturday. Iran says that the idea for replacing the US Dollar with the Ruble and Rial was suggested by Russian President Medvedev in Astana during private meetings at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
This Sunday Iranian President Ahmadinejad arrived in Venezuela for a 4 nation tour, beginning the visit in Caracas with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. His 5-day trip is meant to strengthen ties between Iran and Latin America.