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Moscow sends warships to Syria: war games or evacuation?

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"This was a scheduled exercise, and it has the purpose of demonstrating Russia's support for Assad and its important role in the region, but probably the mix of ships in the flotilla has been changed to reflect a potentially more practical purpose," he adds.

Syria has been a political and military partner of Moscow since 1971, and Russia has stubbornly refused to acquiesce to any international action that would license military intervention or tough sanctions against the regime of Mr. Assad.

Shift in tone?

But in recent weeks, Moscow, perhaps sensing the inevitable demise of Assad, has begun to shift its ground. This week, Russia announced that it will cancel new arms contracts with Syria.

On Tuesday, Russia hosted a delegation from the Syrian National Council, the main exiled Syrian opposition group, as part of its efforts to look more flexible.

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