(Newsroom America) -- Russia has sent a small fleet of 11 warships to the eastern Mediterranean for maneuvers, though some of the vessels are expected to dock in Syria, reports said Wednesday.
The New York Times said nearly half the warships are capable of carrying hundreds of marines in what will be the largest display of force by Russia since Syria devolved into civil war weeks ago.
The announcement positions Moscow as the increasingly influential power broker in the conflict in Syria, which is Russia's last ally in the region, the paper said. Moscow has repeatedly warned Western nations to stay out of the conflict and has said it would, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, veto any effort by the world body to intervene on behalf of the anti-government forces.
Russia has occasionally dispatched small groups of warships to the region in the past, including an aircraft-carrying battleship, the Admiral Kuznetsov, from December 2011 to February 2012, the Times reported.
But Tuesday's announcement was viewed as Moscow sending a message to the U.S. and other Western nations supporting rebels in their effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Some of the Russian ships are expected to dock in Tartus, where Moscow maintains a supply and maintenance base.
The Russian announcement drew a muted response from Washington.
"We currently have no reason to believe this move is anything out of the ordinary, but we refer you to the Russian government for more details," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told the Times.
The announcement came as a group of Syrian opposition leaders visited Moscow to see if Russia was prepared to accept a political settlement in Syria that excludes Assad.
Moscow has repeatedly opposed foreign military intervention in Syria, but has indicated it could move to secure the port at Tartus, perhaps as a means of evacuating Russian citizens.
The Russian Defense Ministry statement said warships from three fleets - the Northern Fleet, the Baltic Fleet and the Black Sea fleet - would take part in the maneuvers.
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