MOSCOW, March 17 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian Navy will maintain 5-6 warships in the Mediterranean Sea as a task force to defend Russia’s interests in the area, Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov said on Sunday.
"Up to five-six warships must be present in the Mediterranean Sea on a permanent basis and control must be exercised through the command of the [Russian] Black Sea Fleet,” Chirkov said in an interview with the Zvezda TV network run by the Defense Ministry.
The Russian Navy’s Mediterranean task force will comprise frigates and cruisers, as well as support vessels, he said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday a decision to deploy a permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean had been made.
“I believe that we have the capability to form and maintain such a task force,” Shoigu said, citing the success of recent large-scale naval drills carried out by the Russian navy in the Mediterranean and Black seas.
The exercises involved warships from the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific fleets, strategic bombers and naval infantry.
Shoigu did not mention, however, a timeline for the deployment of the new task force, which would likely require significant effort to ensure efficient logistics and the proper maintenance of warships in the Mediterranean group.
The Soviet Union maintained its 5th Mediterranean Squadron in that sea from 1967 until 1992. It was formed to counter the US Navy 6th Fleet during the Cold War, and consisted of 30-50 warships and auxiliary vessels at different times.