Russia and Syria hold first joint naval drills with 2,000 troops to prepare for warfare

Rear Admiral Alexander Yuldashev said all the goals of the Mediterranean drills, involving 2,000 personnel, 10 vessels and a number of aircraft, were achieved. He said personnel from both navies practiced their skills in planning combat operations and swiftly responding to a change in the situation and specifying plans, organising inter-operability and the joint command and control of tactical groups.

The joint staff also practiced employing non-standard methods and tactical techniques of the forces’ operations in preparing for warfare, including measures to deceive the enemy.

Maxim Zabolotsky, chief of the Radiochemical and Biological Protection Service at the Tartus naval logistics facility, said there was a high level of cohesion of the troops from both countries.

He said: “The conditions for the servicemen of the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic were complex and tense.

“But we coped with the task thanks to the joint skillful and coherent actions."

During the drills, notional terrorists dispersed a chemical agent on the territory of the naval facility.

The radiochemical and biological protection personnel identified the chemical agent, warned the troops about the chemical contamination, designated the borders of the contaminated section and collected substances for their dispatch to the laboratory to determine the chemical’s place of origin.

The Syrian servicemen carried out measures to decontaminate the area.

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The exercises began on Monday and involved Russian surface ships, aircraft from Russia’s Hmeymim air base, missile gunboats and minesweepers from the Syrian Navy.

Russia closer military relationship with the Syrian regime has raised eyebrows in the West.

Earlier this month Russian forces entered the former ISIS capital Raqqa in one of the starkest examples yet of how Moscow has filled the vacuum created by Donald Trump’s decision to pull US forces from northern Syria.

Russian troops were shown in footage on the defence ministry’s Zvezda TV channel shaking hands with Syrian children and unloading humanitarian aid bundles with the slogan “Russia is with you” from the back of trucks.

Raqqa was captured two years ago by US troops and their Kurdish-led Syrian allies in the biggest victory of Washington’s campaign against ISIS in Syria.

But since Mr Trump abruptly ordered a pull-out in October, Moscow has swiftly advanced into territory where US troops had previously operated.

Russia is a close battlefield ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which was invited by the Kurds into territory they controlled after Mr Trump pulled his forces out of the way of a Turkish assault against Kurdish-held areas.

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Defense ministry official Vladimir Varnavsky said the Russian troops were in Raqqa to hand out humanitarian aid while military doctors were offering residents medical attention.

He said: “Work in the city to get rid of the rubble and clear the area of bombs or mines is not yet complete and there is a shortage of clean water, medicine and food.”

Russia last month set up a helicopter base an airport in a northeastern Syrian city and also landed forces at a sprawling air base in the region that had been vacated by US forces.

Moscow is also investing £383m in the port of Tartus it seeks to boost its new-found position as the most powerful foreign player in the war-torn country.

Tartus is the home of Russia’s sole naval base outside the former Soviet Union and gives Moscow a critical beachhead in the Mediterranean.

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