Russia sending warships to its base in Syria
* Russia sends navy flagship to base in Syria
* Retired admiral says ships to prevent military conflict
* Russian media say U.S. warships in the region
By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Russia is sending a flotilla of warships to its naval base in Syria in a show of force which suggests Moscow is willing to defend its interests in the strife-torn country as international pressure mounts on President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Arab League sanctions and French calls for the establishment of humanitarian zones in Syria have increased international pressure on Assad to end bloodshed that the United Nations says has killed 3,500 people during nine months of protests against his rule.
Russia, which has a naval maintenance base in Syria and whose weapons trade with Damascus is worth millions of dollars annually, joined China last month to veto a Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Assad's government.
Izvestia newspaper reported on Monday, citing retired Russian Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, that Russia plans to send its flagship aircraft carrier the "Admiral Kuznetsov" along with a patrol ship, an anti-submarine craft and other vessels.
"Having any military force apart from NATO is very beneficial for the region as it prevents the outbreak of armed conflict," Kravchenko, who was navy chief of staff from 1998-2005, was quoted as saying by Izvestia. Continued...