Russia will send a flotilla of warships led by its only aircraft carrier to its naval base in Syria for a port call next year amid tensions with the West over the Syrian crisis, a report said Monday.
The ships, headed by the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, will dock at the little-utilised Russian base in the Syrian port of Tartus in spring 2012, the Izvestia daily said, quoting the Russian navy.
The Tartus base, a strategic asset for Moscow dating back to Soviet times, is rarely used by Russian vessels and currently no Russian ship is based there although civilian and military personnel are present.
A naval spokesman confirmed the plan to send the ships but insisted it had nothing to do with the deadly violence in Syria between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition.
"The call of the Russian ships in Tartus should not be seen as a gesture towards what is going on in Syria," the spokesman told the paper, adding the Admiral Kuznetsov would also visit Beirut, Genoa and Cyprus.
"This was planned already in 2010 when there were no such events there. There has been active preparation and there is no need to cancel this," added the spokesman.
Russia and the West have become deeply split over the situation in Syria, with Moscow insisting that sanctions and pressure against the Assad regime is not the way to solve the crisis.
Izvestia said the Admiral Kuznetsov -- Russia's only operational aircraft carrier -- would head down from the Russian Far North in December, keeping west of Europe and heading into the Mediterranean through the Strait of Gibraltar. It would also carry around a dozen aircraft.
It said the Admiral Kuznetsov would not be able to dock in Tartus itself due to the size of the vessel but anchor outside and be supplied by the smaller ships accompanying it. The ship has visited Tartus before in 1995 and 2007.