Opposition's Hopes Fade as Russian Warships Sail to Aid Assad Regime

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Hopes that Russia might distance itself from Bashar al-Assad's regime diminished yesterday as the head of the main Syrian opposition group left talks in Moscow angered and a flotilla of Russian warships was dispatched to the eastern Mediterranean.

In a powerful signal of military might the 11 warships, some of which will dock in the Syrian port of Tartus where Russia has a naval base, set sail to safeguard Russian merchant ships from "interference" as they continue to deliver air-defence systems and helicopters to Syria, said Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, the deputy head of Russia's military technical co-operation agency. But despite Russia's display of support, pressure continued to mount on the regime with news of another high-level defection, as the Syrian ambassador in Baghdad announced he no longer supports Mr Assad.

Russia's announcement earlier this week that it would halt the delivery of new weapons shipments to Syria until the situation there stabilises, including a contract for almost 40 Yak-130 fighter jets, had raised hopes that Moscow might begin taking a harder stance towards its Soviet-era ally.

However Mr Dzirkaln said yesterday: "One cannot possibly speak of us imposing an arms or military technology embargo on Syria. …