Russia, Syria deny war games with China, Iran

Iran's Fars News reports "unnamed sources" talked of joint air, ground and naval exercises in Syria.

Iranian officer looks at Strait of Hormuz 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
Iranian officer looks at Strait of Hormuz 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
Russian and Syrian officials dismissed as provocation on Tuesday Iranian media reports that Iran, Russia, China and Syria are planning to conduct joint military exercises in Syria next month.
Iran’s semi-official Fars News outlet, which has ties to the Iranian government, said “certain unofficial sources” had confirmed the war games but did not say where those sources were from.
The report appears to have originated on Arabic language Syrian media outlet, ShamLife, and was later also published on pan-Arab news site al-Arabiya.
The Iranian and Arabic reports said the exercises were scheduled for less than a month’s time.
Other Iranian media outlets, including the Revolutionary Guards-linked Mashregh News and Mehr News, which is owned by the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization, also ran the same report on Tuesday, but did not cite any Iranian official sources as confirming it.
Fars’s report admitted that there has not been an official announcement confirming the war games, but cited an unnamed Syrian official declaring that a joint exercise between those four countries would be carried out “soon.”
Preparations for those exercises would be carried out in the next few days, Fars quoted “informed sources” as saying, adding that the exercises would involve ground troops, air forces and naval forces.
The ShamLife report, titled “The largest military exercise in the Middle East – Russia, Syria, China and Iran in ‘World War III rehearsal,’” said sources had confirmed previous leaks, and that preparations for the exercise were being carried out at an “accelerated pace.”
According to ShamLife, China had gained Egyptian approval to allow 12 Chinese ships carrying military equipment to pass through the Suez Canal, and that these vessels would reach the Syrian ports of Tartous and Latakia in two weeks.
ShamLife said Syrian air defense missiles and its coastal defense would be put to the test in the military exercises, and that 90,000 troops from the four countries would be involved in the war games along with 400 aircraft and 1,000 tanks and “hundreds of rockets.”
The exercises would be carried out after Syrian troops had “cleansed” several cities where “armed groups” – Syrian opposition forces fighting against government troops loyal to President Bashar Assad – were gathering.
The Syrian opposition has frequently accused the Iranian regime of supporting Assad and providing his forces with material and equipment to suppress the revolution.
Fars added in its report that no official sources from Syria, Russia, China or Iran had confirmed the war games would take place.
The Fars report also noted that in addition to the Chinese ships, Russian nuclear submarines and warships would also sail to Syria.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that a political and media adviser to Assad had denied that the war-games would take place.
“Nothing of the sort will happen. This is one of those mendacious reports that is being disseminated [about Syria],” adviser Bouthaina Shaaban said, according to Interfax.
Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported late Tuesday afternoon that a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman also dismissed reports of the Syrian war games as attempts to “further escalate the situation in Syria.”
Russian news outlets also on Tuesday said Russian naval officials also denied reports that its Black Sea Fleet ship, the Caesar Kunikov (BDK 64), a military landing craft home-ported in Sevastopol, had set sail for Syria.
RIA Novosti cited an unnamed Black Fleet officer as saying the Kunikov set sail for a routine test at a training base and was not headed to the Mediterranean.
According to RIA Novosti, the same fleet commander also dismissed reports in the Ukrainian and Western media that another Black Sea amphibious ship, the Nikolai Filchenkov, was headed to Syria carrying weapons and marines.
Later on Tuesday, RIA Novosti said the Russian Defense Ministry had denied reports that the Russian Navy was sending a Baltic Sea Fleet warship, the Kaliningrad, to Syria.
Syria’s Tartous port is home to a Cold War-era Russian naval supply and maintenance base, which was established in 1971 and Russian naval personnel still staff.
In July 2009, RIA Novosti reported that the Russian Navy planned to expand and modernize its Tartous base, the only Russian foothold in the Mediterranean.