Russia’s defence ministry on Thursday said it will hold naval drills in the “east Mediterranean” in September and October, as the West frets over a military buildup by Moscow in Syria.

The exercises include three warships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, including the Saratov landing ship, the Moskva guided missile cruiser and the Smetlivy destroyer, the ministry said in a statement.

The drills will involve “40 combat exercises, including rocket and artillery fire at sea and airborne targets,” the statement said.

The ministry said that the Mediterranean drills — which were restarted in early 2013 — had been planned since the end of last year and did not link them to the conflict in Syria.

The United States has accused Moscow of sending troops, tanks and fighter jets to Syria in recent weeks, sparking fears that Russia could be preparing to join in fighting alongside its long-standing ally President Bashar al-Assad.

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