Three Russian submarines armed with cruise missiles have reportedly joined a naval battleforce heading towards Syria.
The Royal Navy and Nato have been tracking the two Akula-class submarines and a diesel-powered Kilo-class sub as they travelled to join the fleet of Russian ships headed by the Soviet-era aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.
“The Russians now have submarines in the Med,” a senior naval source told The Sunday Times.
It is feared the submarines may be armed with Kalibr cruise missiles and could be used to support the final assault on the besieged city of Aleppo.
The battlegroup includes the Admiral Kuznetsov, Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) battlecruiser, the Vice-Admiral Kulakov destroyer, Severomorsk destroyer and several supply vessels.On Tuesday, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg warned the Syria-bound fleet could be used to target civilians in Aleppo and to launch more air strikes.
However, senior Russian Foreign Ministry official Andrei Kelin dismissed his statement as “absurd”.
“The concerns are not based on anything as our planes have not come near Aleppo for nine days,” he told the RIA news agency. “Our battle group is in the Mediterranean. Our ships have always had a presence there. Why make some spurious suggestions and then make some political recommendations based on them? It is of course absurd.”
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has questioned Russia’s statements about a moratorium on bombing Aleppo, saying the city has been hit by strikes since a lull in fighting ended on Saturday
According to the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, Kalibr cruise missiles were launched from a Rostov-on-Don submarine and successfully hit two “terrorist positions” in Raqqa, about 160 kilometres east of Aleppo.
Syria’s regime and rebels were locked in fierce fighting on Sunday on Aleppo’s western edges, where 38 civilians have been killed and 250 wounded in a two-day opposition offensive to break the government siege.
Among those killed over the two-day period were 14 children, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Rebels and allied jihadists launched a major offensive on Friday to break through government lines and reach the 250,000 people living in the city’s east.
Since then, they have unleashed a salvo of rockets, artillery shells, and car bombs around the western government-controlled districts.