Tom Parfitt and Adrian Blomfield
Two destroyers and three amphibious landing vessels carrying marines set sail from Russian bases in the Arctic and the Black Sea, according to Russian military sources.
Russia’s defence ministry insisted that the mission was part of a previously scheduled exercise in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Sea and at least one of the vessels in the flotilla has patrolled waters off Syria earlier this year.
But Western diplomats say the purpose of the mission is to show tangible support for Mr Assad, to warn the West against military intervention in Syria and to prepare for the possible evacuation of Russian nationals from the country.
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