Russia is sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, and has denied the deployment is linked to events in Syria.
Russia is sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, Interfax news agency said on Thursday, as Western powers prepare for military action over last week's alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Interfax news agency quoted a source in the armed forces' general staff as saying a missile cruiser and an anti-submarine ship would arrive in the coming days because of the "well-known situation" – a clear reference to the conflict in Syria.
The navy later denied the deployment was linked to events in Syria and said it was part of a long-planned rotation of its ships in the Mediterranean. It did not say what kind of vessels, or how many, were on their way to the region.
The initial Interfax report had made clear that the aim was to beef up the navy's presence and not to replace the ships in the Mediterranean. The reason for the discrepancy in the two reports was not immediately clear.
The United States accused Syrian government forces of carrying out last week's chemical weapons attack and said it is repositioning its naval forces in the Mediterranean.
Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's main international ally, said it opposes any military intervention in Syria and that it has no plans to be drawn into any conflict. It said there is no proof that Assad's forces carried out the attack.
'Punish the Syrian regime'
Meanwhile, western plans for retaliatory action against Syria for an alleged chemical weapons attack are "difficult to develop", the French government spokesperson said on Thursday.
"The international community must find a riposte that is adapted to the situation," Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said on France 2 television.
She said it was "necessary to obtain the adhesion of several allies and partners at the heart of the UN Security Council, which we are trying to do" but added that "states like Russia and China pose a certain number of problems".
The aim of military action "will not simply be to punish the Syrian regime and prevent it from carrying out a new attack of this type ... but also to seek a way out of this crisis".
"It's extremely important for the international community if it intervenes to do so in a manner that the country can recover."
Her comments came after US President Barack Obama, who had warned that the regime of Assad would be crossing a "red line" if it used chemical weapons, said he had not taken a decision on retaliatory strikes yet.
Britain has been pushing for permanent members of the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution which would have authorised measures to protect civilians in Syria.
But Russia refused to agree to the resolution and a diplomatic stalemate continues.
Syria denies using chemical weapons and has blamed the opposition for the August 21 attack on a Damascus suburb. – Reuters; AFP