Back in the summer of 2013, just around the peak of the first major escalation involving Syria and the US attempt to remove its president al-Assad, the Mediterranean briefly looked like a parking lot, with US and Russian ships on anchor just off the Syrian coast prepared for any eventuality.
Then, last year, around the time Russia announced it would deploy its air force to Syria for the first time, we predicted that sooner or later, the naval phase of the Syrian conflict would ratner and lead to a repeat of the events from the summer of 2013. So, one year later, precisely this sequence of events now appears to be in place: earlier today, Russia’s defence minister said Wednesday that Moscow was dispatching its flagship aircraft carrier to bolster its forces in the eastern Mediterranean off Syria.
The Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier would be sent to join Russia’s current naval deployment there, minister Sergei Shoigu said during a televised meeting.
“At the moment the Russian task force in the Eastern Mediterranean consists of no fewer than six combat ships and three or four logistic ships from all fleets” the minister said adding that “to build up the group’s combat capabilities we plan to reinforce it with an Admiral Kuznetsov-led group,” Shoigu told a meeting of the Defense Ministry’s board. He added that the Russian Navy has been permanently present in the Eastern Mediterranean since 2013.
While Russia has been flying a bombing campaign in Syria for the past year in support of Bashar al-Assad and has deployed a naval contingent to back up its operation, this is the first time that the Soviet-era Kuznetsov – Russia’s only aircraft carrier that is part of its Northern fleet based in Murmansk – will join the Russian deployment after undergoing a refurbishment.
Russia has a base in government-controlled Syrian territory from which it has flown most of its bombing raids in the country. There is also a naval base in the town of Tartus which Russia has used extensively on past occasions.
It has flown long-range bombing raids from bases in Russia and fired cruise missiles from ships in the Caspian Sea and a submarine in the Mediterranean.
However, those were either not enough, or Russia just felt like it needs to make an even more forceful naval statement, and as a result a Russian aircraft carrier will be found off the Syrian coast within a few week.
It also means that US aircraft carriers will promptly match the Russian move, and soon be located within torpedo distance of Russian ships.
We doubt any of these developments will lead to a de-escalation of hostilities in the region, and if anything, will only lead to an acceleration of the already deadly tensions in the middle-east.