Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier Syria Bound?
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Russia’s Only Aircraft Carrier Syria Bound?


Russia will deploy its only heavy aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to the Mediterranean Sea by the end of 2013, a Russian military official announced earlier this week.

Discussing the planned deployment, Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov told Interfax,

“The cruiser will complete its planned maintenance at the end of the year. It is expected to put out and perform a number of missions in an offshore oceanic zone as part of a group. Northern Fleet naval pilots will perform a number of missions on board this cruiser in the long-range mission.”

The report goes on to say that the vessel carries Su-33 sea-based multirole fighters and Ka-27, Ka-28, Ka-29, Ka-32 helicopters. It is also equipped with Granit anti-ship missile systems, Kortik and Klinok anti-aircraft systems, and Udav anti-submarine systems.

The carrier will join the group of warships deployed to the Mediterranean earlier this year as part of a new permanent task force Russia established in the region largely in response to the ongoing hostilities in Syria, where Russia maintains a naval base.

Last month, when the warships arrived in the Mediterranean, Russian state media reported that the task force consisted of the “destroyer Admiral Panteleyev, two amphibious warfare ships Peresvet and Admiral Nevelskoi, as well as a tanker and a tugboat.” Admiral Chirkov was quoted at the time as saying that five to six warships would be sent to the region by the end of the year, and that nuclear-powered and diesel submarines might be deployed as part of the task force in the future. Moscow also intends to establish a headquarters for the fleet sometime this summer, with initial reports suggesting it will be based out of Novorossiysk, Russia or Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Comments by other Russian naval officials indicated that last month was first time since the Soviet Navy’s 5th Mediterranean Squadron was disbanded in 1992 that Russian warships were patrolling waters in the region.

The 5th Mediterranean Squadron was established shortly after the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, and usually consisted of 30-50 warships.

Interestingly, the new Mediterranean task force more closely resembles the Soviet Union’s pre-5th Mediterranean Squadron naval presence in the region. Much like the current task force, before the 1967 War the Soviet Navy used warships drawn from their Black Sea and Northern Fleets to patrol the Mediterranean region, rather than having an established fleet and command structure. Even after the establishment of the 5th Squadron, the Soviet Navy’s effectiveness in the region was hampered by numerous logistical and basing challenges.

Still, the current decision to send its sole aircraft carrier to the region indicates the high level of importance Russia is placing on the conflict in Syria, and the region more generally. Indeed, prior to this new deployment, the Admiral Kuznetsov was undergoing upgrades that were supposed to continue until 2017, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Furthermore, as Information Dissemination’s Raymond Pritchett (Galrahn) points out, even the U.S. hasn’t used one of its ten aircraft carriers to respond to any Arab Spring-related developments, including the Libyan operation.

Moscow’s decision to send a fleet to Mediterranean waters could be geared in part towards being able to quickly evacuate Russian nationals from Syria should the need arise. Given the supposed permanency of the task force, the type of vessels deployed, and the continued beefing up of its fleet despite Assad’s gains on the ground, Russia is no doubt also seeking to use the task force to deter the U.S. from intervening militarily on the side of the rebels.

Since the beginning of the conflict, Moscow has been on guard against a Western military intervention in Syria, including by vetoing (along with China) numerous UN Security Council sanctions bills on the grounds that NATO forces could use them to legitimize a military intervention.

And while Russia does have legitimate interests in Syria, as well as in preventing the West from intervening against regimes in civil wars more generally, the amount of attention and resources Moscow is devoting to Syria are disproportionate to these limited interests. After all, even Russian strategic analysts concede that the Tartus naval base is largely symbolic.

Instead, it increasingly seems like leaders in Moscow are simply using the Syrian conflict as a “coming out” party for the more assertive diplomacy they envision for a resurgent Russian state. In a recent interview with Foreign Policy’s (and soon Politico’s) Susan Glasser, for instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said:

“Russia feels more assertive — not aggressive, but assertive. And we have been getting out of the situation where we found ourselves in the early '90s when the Soviet Union disappeared and the Russian Federation became what it is — you know, with no borders, with no budget, no money, and with huge problems starting with lack of food and so on and so forth. It is a very different country now. And of course we can now pay more attention to looking after our legitimate interests in the areas where we were absent for quite some time after the demise of the Soviet Union.”

But if the objective of wanting to be a serious power in global diplomacy is understandable, the means of achieving it are somewhat perplexing. To begin with, if Russia views the U.S. as its primary adversary, it would ultimately benefit from the U.S. becoming bogged down in another intractable sectarian conflict in the Middle East. The long-term benefit of this to Moscow would more than outweigh the short-term costs of the U.S. once again publicly disregarding Russia’s interests by intervening.

More to the point, Syria and the Levant are not going to occupy center stage in 21st century geopolitics. Even the Middle East-obsessed United States concedes rhetorically that this distinction will go the Indo-Pacific region, which is of far greater concern to Russian national interests anyways, given its geographical proximity.

Yet much of Russia’s initial Mediterranean deployment reportedly came from vessels normally assigned to its Pacific Fleet. As the maritime rules of the road are rapidly being redefined in the Pacific Ocean, it doesn’t make sense for Russia to divert part of its already limited fleet in that critical theater to one of questionable strategic importance. Then again, it also doesn’t make sense for Russia to make itself China’s "favorite junior partner."

In both cases it appears that Russian leaders like Putin and Lankrov’s resentment of the U.S. and the West—however justifiable it at times might be— is clouding their larger strategic judgment. Put simply, emotions don’t make for good strategy, which is why Stalin was such a formidable foe. 

September 6, 2013 at 15:12

Do you support the liver eating secular Sunnis or the more zesty Jabhat Al Nusra, or the classic AQ in the Levant and Mesopotamia? After all, they are our allies now, unlike the evil Iranians.

August 25, 2013 at 15:26

Yeah…good luck with that. See how much success you have attacking multiple countries that can actually fight back, instead of peaceful, innocent Tibetan monks.

August 11, 2013 at 00:45

China should seize mongolia in a lightning strike and simultaneously attach burma and seize a direct link to the indian ocean as well as at the same time attacking russiian east ot the urals mountain. Then they should make everyone in China draw straws , odds have to leave and go to live in the new conquered places. Once they have a decent navy and airforce they can attack taiwan too. 

June 20, 2013 at 14:52

The aircraft carrier fleet that will be on the Table Organization and Equipment in Mediteranian plays a major role to assert its presence so that it will not be manipulated by the Hegemonic communist China, the better the Russian navy should have a partner with the United Nations Allied Forces to be more strong in terms of teamwork and camaraderie with fellow strong country for the good of Democracy…

June 19, 2013 at 16:00

So, still using "Divide and conquer"

You can fool some of the people some of the time etc…

June 11, 2013 at 00:31

Ha……..ha……..haw. Jealousy will get you nowhere.

June 10, 2013 at 19:02

So Russia has 1 Carrier and China has 1 Carrier as well, well against 10 by the United States? 

You really think the US Navy is thinned out? You're hilarious.

June 8, 2013 at 17:59

And the tug boats are on stand by.

June 7, 2013 at 17:26

But there's no return to gulf of Mexico. There is nothing for the U.S. to worry about.

The Soviet Navy's caribbean outpost

June 7, 2013 at 15:58

Indeed, it's China with its expansionist hegemonic ambitions & the vast Russian Far East (rich in  natural resources :oil, gas, timber, diamond, ores etc.  with a  population of only  7 millions v.s. 100 millions+ of Chinese on the other side of the border) that would  be  a grave cause for concern haunting a foxy Putin  (& other Russian leaders after him) every night till the last day of their life  in this world!

Arrival Of The Russian Sherrif & His Posse
June 7, 2013 at 14:48

Finally, the Russian calvary coming out to put fright to the American outlaws and terrorists and put them in their place.

Thomas Fox
June 7, 2013 at 14:44

The U.S forces may well be carrying the Arc of the Covenant with them but they'll be more in a supporting role-led not by Abram MBTs but by Israeli Merkavas. This of course will be preceded by B-2 and F-22 strikes.

June 7, 2013 at 12:18

So Russia is deploying its Pacific Fleet in the Middle East. Russia is pivoting to the Middle East while USA is pivoting to the Pacific. With the latest Russian moves, USA will have to split its attention from the Pacific to the Middle East once again. Otherwise the Russians will score strategic gains there including access to new found oil fields off Syria and Israel. If these oil fields are developed, Europe may not need to dance to the Russian tune in winter. But if USA allocates more resources to the Middle East, it exposes in the Pacific which will be exploited by China.

This is a very clever strategy by Russia and China to thin out US military deployment. Russia scores in West Asia while China in East Asia.

Things are also hotting up in the Arctic.

June 7, 2013 at 09:09

David, using your logic, the US forces will soon be marching with arc of the covenant carried by High Priests, preceding their battle order of Abram tanks.

This peddling of God by the Christian Right in foreign policy discussion, is using predetermined talking points formulated in Tel Aviv.

June 7, 2013 at 06:09

The author must give more credit to Russian moves more than a "coming out party".The Syrian coast of the mediteranian is strategic outlet to Europe for the gas pipelines from Central Asia, Persian Gulf and newer gas fields in Israel/Lebanon/Syria and the transit areas of Cyprus and Turkey.


June 7, 2013 at 05:57

No amount of Western propaganda or prodding will make Russia fall in line as America's "favorite junior partner," so long as the West continues to spit upon Russian interests in Eastern EUrope, the Middle East, and Central Asia. China, one cant help but notice, does not.

Kim's Uncle
June 7, 2013 at 04:44

It is always a bad idea to have a former KGB official as a leader of a country.  Putin is still stuck in the 20th Century.  Instead of building a real viable state by buiding a real economy rather relying on exporting natural resources to earn hard currency, Putin is buidling a Brezhnev like order.  So disappointed in Russia.  Russia needs a Decembrist type movement to steer it away from this internal rot.  

David Ulberg
June 7, 2013 at 02:02

God of Israel is with America and Russia could only flex their muscles… they are losers with their evil ally Iran. Go America! Just teach them a lesson.

June 7, 2013 at 01:05

nice boat…

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