A Black Sea-based Russian surface action group scrambled to the Eastern Mediterranean —under the guise of drilling in the region — are likely there to provide an air defense bubble to protect Russian fighters striking targets in Syria, according to a Russian press report. In the last three weeks, several surface combatants have departed the Russian Black Sea headquarters in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula for the Mediterranean for an announced series of anti-ship and anti-air drills.

At the time the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) denied the drills had any connection to the Russian build-up of forces in Syria but reports from independent Russian news wire service Interfax-AVN quoted a military source on Friday saying the exercise was to, “test the efficiency of the system protecting the air base near Latakia from air strikes.” READ MORE