- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2015

Russia’s defense ministry on Thursday announced it would hold naval drills in the “east Mediterranean” in September and October, adding to the U.S.’ concerns over Moscow’s military build up in Syria

The exercises include three warships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, including the Saratov landing ship, the Moskva guided missile cruiser and the Smetlivy destroyer, the ministry said in a statement, the Agence France Presse reported.

The drills will involve “40 combat exercises, including rocket and artillery fire at sea and airborne targets,” the statement said.

But ministry officials said the drills were not related to the conflict in Syria and have been planned since the end of last year.

Over the last month, the U.S. has become increasingly concerned with Russia’s involvement in Syria, accusing Moscow of sending troops, tanks and fighter jets to the region in recent weeks.

The U.S. is worried that Russia will eventually send its own ground troops to fight alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime against terrorists.

Obama administration officials are hoping to find a diplomatic solution that would allow the U.S. and Russia to coordinate efforts in Syria and ease Mr. Assad out of power while avoiding a total collapse of Syria’s government.

This week however, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he would launch strikes in Syria with or without U.S. approval.

Mr. Putin and President Obama are set to meet next week in New York where they will both be attending the U.N. General Assembly.

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