MOSCOW, June 6 (RIA Novosti) – Russia is committed to ensuring conditions for its permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean, where it has legitimate national security interests, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
“It is a strategically important region. We have interests there, related to ensuring Russia’s national security,” he said during a visit to the Central Command Post of the Russian Armed Forces.
“Restoration of Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean is not ‘saber rattling.’ We have done a good deal together with our partners, including our NATO partners, in tackling the threat posed by criminal groups, including in tackling piracy,” Putin said.
Russia’s Mediterranean task force, which formally began work on Saturday, currently comprises 16 surface warships and three helicopters, First Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov said, adding that its configuration may change depending on the situation and mission.
It is under the control of the Black Sea Fleet commander, with command headquarters deployed on the Admiral Panteleyev destroyer, Gerasimov said.
The Mediterranean task force will ensure missile defense and fight drug trafficking, piracy and terror, the Russian Defense Ministry said in a press release.
Its mission will also include antisubmarine defense, search and rescue operations at sea and humanitarian functions, the ministry said.
As of late May, the task force included the Severomorsk anti-submarine destroyer, the Yaroslav Mudry frigate, the Altai and SB-921 salvage/rescue tugs and the Lena tanker from the Northern and Baltic Fleets, as well as the Ropucha-II class landing ships Nikolai Filchenkov and Azov from the Black Sea Fleet, the Admiral Panteleyev, and the Peresvet and Admiral Nevelsky amphibious warfare ships. The task force may be enlarged to include nuclear submarines, Navy Commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov said in May.
The Defense Ministry said in April that Russia had begun setting up a naval task force in the Mediterranean, sending several warships from the Pacific Fleet to the region. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in March a permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean was needed to defend Russia’s interests in the region.
The Soviet Union maintained its 5th Mediterranean Squadron from 1967 until 1992. It was formed to counter the US Navy’s 6th Fleet during the Cold War, and consisted of 30-50 warships and auxiliary vessels.