June 15th, 2012
06:42 PM ET

US believes Russia has ship with weapons, troops en route to Syria

By Barbara Starr, with reporting from Jill Dougherty

The United States says it is tracking a Russian military cargo ship as it makes its way to Syria carrying weapons, ammunition and a small number of Russian troops.

U.S. intelligence believes the Russians are sending the ship to help fortify its naval base in Syria as the situation in country continues to spiral out of control, Pentagon officials told CNN Friday.

The presence of the ship was first reporting by NBC News.

Classified U.S. imagery shows the ship, called the Nikolay Filchenkov, began loading in the port of Sevastapol on the Black Sea on June 7 and is headed for the Syrian port of Tartus, where the Russians have a naval facility. The port is vital for Russian naval access to the entire Middle East.

Under maritime rules, Russia should declare what the ship is carrying when it enters the Mediterranean, U.S. officials said.

The sources could not say how many troops are on board, though it is not believed to be a large number. In addition, the officials said, it is not clear if the troops are only to help secure and transport the weapons and equipment or if they will stay in Syria.

For now, the United States believes Russia's intention is to defend its naval base. But it is not clear how much of a threat the Russians really are facing from Syrian opposition forces. There have been no reports of significant fighting in the area lately.

U.S. officials are worried there could be other plans for the troops and military gear should the Russians offload the ship in Tartus.

The Nikolay Filchenkov is a large landing ship capable of carrying up 1,700 tons and 300 troops, according to Human Rights Watch, which monitors ship activity in relation to Syria.

Russia has already been in a fierce back-and-forth with the United States, after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Russians were shipping attack helicopters to Syria. The Russian government has said the helicopters are not new, but rather were refurbished under an existing contract with Syria.

"As we said before, there are no new combat helicopters supplies to Syria. Our military and technical cooperation with Syria is limited to delivery of defensive arms. As for helicopters, earlier we did a planned maintenance of equipment that had been supplied to Syria many years ago," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its website Friday.

A former Russian presidential adviser tells CNN that it does not make sense for Moscow to send troops to offload at the port.

Andranik Migranyan, director of the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation in New York, a Kremlin-backed non-governmental organization, said Russia has opposed introducing any outside troops into Syria because, Russian officials argue, it would create more problems in the violence-torn country.

"I don't see any logic in it," Migranyan told CNN, referring to the reports of troops on their way. "If Russia did that it would invite other countries to send forces to Syria."

soundoff (645 Responses)
  1. jonathan

    I have asked several questions, and many of the replies suggest that I consider FIREFOX. I'm not sure what it is – probably a browser. Is it similar to Netscape and Internet Explorer? What are its good features and its bad features?.

    May 10, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Reply
  2. theazcowboy

    What would the Great Satan do if the Russian fleet was about to take out their Bahrain naval base? Fight like hell, right? Then why all this caca about Russians naval base in Syria being threatened by ther United Snakes (US/NATO). huh 'boyze?!!!'

    August 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  3. theazcowboy

    The United Snakes (US/Israel/NATO) have helped murder thousands of Syrian civilians using their Libyan 'Rebel' thugs and murders and then tried to blame the Syrian military for the massacres and deaths. Pretty low down politics. Hillary needs to be captured by Assad and burn at the stake (Joan of Arc, I presume?) for being the heart of the killing in Libya, Syria, and indirectly in Palestine. Trying to make the Middle East safe for Jewish terrorism isn't working and US Imperialism is at a threshhold of running or declaring victory and leaving. Yassar Taliban 'patriots' you got the bankrupt US/NATO baby kilers and oil thieves in retreat in AFghanistan – Burn their tail feathers off!

    August 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Reply
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    August 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
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    July 18, 2012 at 3:45 am | Reply
  6. Marcus Luttrell

    Russia is protecting its Naval Base that is located in Syria. It is also hoping that maybe if their ships are docked in the Port of Tartus, it will stop International Forces from taking further part in the conflict. It may not look like it on the U.S. or U.K. News but The Free Syrian Army is made up of Rebel Al Qaeda Terrorists! Why does the U.S. arm them?

    July 14, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Reply
    • theazcowboy

      Ever notice the the great Satans allies in the Middle Easst consists of low life killers of innocents, interlopers and adventurers that spread racisl hatred . From Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, el al. You see kings that were once merely low life camel drivers that were at the right place at the right time when the US/Britain and France were creating that rubics cube we call the Middle East these dayze? In Israel, you see the interloper Kahzars that migrated from their homeland in the Black Sea Cacasus area in 520 BC and moved north to destroy Czarist Russia and the Romanov's and then onwards to Hungry and Poland where like biblical locusts they raped the people, the land and everything in-between in the name of Judaism and their G-d', the golden Calf that ruled their life then and up until Wall Street 2009-10-11 where 'derivitives' and 'mortgage wraps' scams helped them to rape the American people of pension, investment and discretionaly funds like a thief steals from a baby.

      August 2, 2012 at 1:11 am | Reply
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