The United States says it is tracking a Russian military cargo ship as it makes its way to Syria carrying weapons, ammunition and a small number of Russian troops.
U.S. intelligence believes the Russians are sending the ship to help fortify its naval base in Syria as the situation in country continues to spiral out of control, Pentagon officials told CNN Friday.
The presence of the ship was first reporting by NBC News.
Classified U.S. imagery shows the ship, called the Nikolay Filchenkov, began loading in the port of Sevastapol on the Black Sea on June 7 and is headed for the Syrian port of Tartus, where the Russians have a naval facility. The port is vital for Russian naval access to the entire Middle East.
Under maritime rules, Russia should declare what the ship is carrying when it enters the Mediterranean, U.S. officials said.
The sources could not say how many troops are on board, though it is not believed to be a large number. In addition, the officials said, it is not clear if the troops are only to help secure and transport the weapons and equipment or if they will stay in Syria.
For now, the United States believes Russia's intention is to defend its naval base. But it is not clear how much of a threat the Russians really are facing from Syrian opposition forces. There have been no reports of significant fighting in the area lately.
Is the naval base here in the port?
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