debkafile Exclusive: Russian missile cruiser Moskva – on a NATO exercise – docked at Syrian Latakia port on Feb. 21

A task force led by the Moskva and the Azov landing ship became the first Russian naval force in a decade to call at a Syrian port.
debkafile‘s military sources report: The force sailed out of its home port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea, on Feb. 5, to join a NATO-led anti-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean for a combined three-month drill focusing on combating the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction, illegal weapons trade and migration. The drill is named The Active Endeavors Operation. NATO leaders and US army chiefs were keen enough on Russian participation for NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to promise the gesture of the first visit by an alliance chief aboard the Moskva.
However, neither he nor the Americans taking part in the exercise had any idea that the Russian naval force intended to break away from the exercise long enough to put in at a Syrian port – a call which Syrian president Bashar Assad took as a gesture of support from Moscow. The visit underlined the Kremlin’s plan to play a larger part in the military affairs of the Middle East, largely by making friendly overtures to America’s adversaries. President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to discuss arms sales in Moscow with an invited Hamas delegation was part of this picture.
The Moskva missile cruiser was built in 1982 to hunt down and destroy aircraft carriers. It underwent major repairs which were completed in 2000. It carries a 510-man crew and its main armament is the Bazalt cruise missile, which weighs 6 tons, has a speed of Mach 2.5 and range of 550 km. The 186.5-meter vessel can carry either a nuclear warhead or a 500-kilo conventional one. Its S300f anti air system stretches over the Moskva an aerial umbrella with a 75 kilometer radius. It is also equipped to fight submarines.
On Feb. 15, in the course of the NATO drill, the Moskva captured the British destroyer the Nottingham when it played the part of the enemy. The Russian cruiser also seized the Spanish frigate Navarro.

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