Moscow sends warships on Mediterranean tour,
offers Lebanon heavy weapons
DEBKAfile's military sources report that, four months after the Georgian war, Moscow is again testing the limits of its Mediterranean reach. Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo announced that two flotillas from the Barents Sea and the Black Sea are heading for the Mediterranean:
One, based in the Barents sea near Finland, is led by the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier accompanied by two guided missile destroyers, the Admiral Chabanenko and Admiral Levchenko, with two supply ships in tow, one a tanker.
The second is the guided nuclear-powered missile cruiser Peter the Great, one of the biggest warships afloat, with three accompanying ships. They come from a joint Caribbean exercise with Venezuela.
According to the Russian Navy spokesman, the two groups will merge upon entering the Mediterranean and spend several months calling in at various ports.
Another Russian military initiative which should worry Jerusalem is the arrival in Beirut Saturday Dec. 6 of Mikhail Dimitriev, head of the Russian military cooperation department, to prepare the visit to Moscow next week of Lebanese defense minister Elias Murr.
After greeting his Russian visitor, Murr said: "There are no obstacles in terms of equipping the army. We prepared for my visit to Russia next week. I will discuss… with the Russian defense minister what could be provided to the Lebanese Air Force."
Clearly, Moscow and Beirut are preparing the way for their first important arms transaction. DEBKAfile's military sources report that on the table are sales of Russian tanks, missiles, helicopters, and possibly warplanes. Murr's statement about no obstacles signals Washington that with Moscow ready and willing, Beirut is prepared to flout US opposition to the Lebanese army's acquisition of heavy weapons for fear they may fall into Hizballah's hands.
Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, raised this concern during a surprise three-hour visit to Beirut last Tuesday, Dec. 2. His trip was prompted by intelligence that Lebanese president Michel Sleiman had been bidding in Tehran, Moscow and Paris, for heavy arms – tanks, warplanes and self-propelled artillery - for the army of which he was formerly chief of staff.
Gen. Petraeus warned prime minister Fouad Siniora and the new chief of staff Gen. Jean Qahwaji that the United States would not allow heavy weapons to reach Lebanon, irrespective of the source. It now looks as though Sleiman and Siniora are prepared to go out on a limb and defy Washington with Moscow's help.