Russia's Defense Ministry says a group of amphibious assault ships of its Northern and Baltic Fleets have arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus, as the Russian navy has been staging large-scale naval drills aimed to counter military threats to Russia amid heightened tensions with the West.
In a statement on Friday, the ministry said the naval task force was made up of six large amphibious assault ships.
"Currently, the ships are in a roadstead in the Syrian port of Tartus where they have begun replenishing their fuel and lubricants, fresh water and food supplies to the required level at the Russian Navy's logistic support facility in the Mediterranean," the statement said.
The ships are designed to land an amphibious assault force on an unequipped shore and sealift troops and cargo. They are also capable of transporting various types of armor, according to the TASS news agency.
Last month, the Russian Defense Ministry said the navy would stage huge drills in the seas directly adjacent to Russia as well as the Mediterranean, the North, and Okhotsk Seas, and in the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans in January and February, with more than 140 warships and support vessels, over 60 aircraft, 1,000 units of military hardware, and nearly 10,000 troops taking part.
The drills aim to "refine the Navy and Aerospace Forces' actions to protect Russian national interests" and "counter military threats to Russia from the sea and ocean," the ministry said on January 20.
Russia and NATO have been recently at loggerheads over Ukraine. Western countries accuse Russia of planning an invasion of Ukraine amid a military buildup near the Ukrainian border. Moscow rejects the allegation and insists that the deployments are defensive in nature.
Tartus is the Russian navy's sole foothold in the Mediterranean.
Moscow has a permanent air base at Hmeymim, in the neighboring province of Latakia. The base has served as a launching pad for counterterrorism strikes in Syria since an operation began in the country in September 2015 at the request of the Syrian government.