Moscow (ANN)-Russian and Syrian naval forces have staged a joint exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea with the aim of defending international maritime economic activity at the sea.

The commander of the joint exercises, Rear Admiral Alexander Yuldashev, told reporters that more than 2,000 soldiers in addition to seven ships and boats participated in the exercises, which took place between January 18 and 20, Russia’s Arabic-language RT Arabic television news network reported.

He added that the crews of the Syrian naval vessels practiced locating mines in the vicinity of the port of Tartus, while crews of Pantsir-S air defense systems protected the airspace around the coastal region.

Yuldachev highlighted that Russian and Syrian commando frogmen also successfully neutralized an underwater sabotage group belonging to hypothetical enemy.

Back on December 17 last year, Russia and Syria have held their first joint naval drills near Russia’s naval facility in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s Zvezda television news network reported at the time that more than 2,000 Russian and Syrian troops and around 10 vessels and boats took part in the drills at Tartus port.

They repelled a drone attack, an attack on a checkpoint and an attack by “scuba diving saboteurs,” the report noted.

Russian and Syrian navies’ tactical groups performed artillery fire and conducted joint maneuvering at sea, Yuldashev was quoted by Interfax as saying then.

“On shore, the security and defense units will combat unmanned aerial vehicles [and] illegal armed groups,” he added.

On January 20, 2017, Russia and Syria signed an agreement on the development and modernization of a leased military installation of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean port city of Tartus, and extending operations there to the next decades.

Under the deal, which was struck in Damascus on December 18 that year but made public two days later, Syria offered Russia free use of the Soviet-era naval supply and maintenance facility for 49 years. The term can be automatically extended for further 25-year periods if neither side objects.

The agreement allows Moscow to upgrade Tartus naval base so that it can immediately accommodate up to 11 Russian vessels, including those equipped with nuclear propulsion systems, provided that nuclear and environmental safety guidelines are taken into account.

The deal says the Tartus facility will help “support peace and stability in the [Middle East] region,” adding that “it has a defensive character and isn’t directed against any other nation.”

It also says the Russian military will ensure the seaborne and airborne protection of the base, while Syria will be responsible for its ground security.

Russia will have the right to renovate, rebuild and demolish the building, do construction work, including underwater, and set up offshore platforms.

The agreement also stipulates that Russia will help Syria restore its Soviet-built warships.