LIVE UPDATES: The Russian Northern Fleet has denied reports in Russian media that the country’s only aircraft carrier, the ailing Admiral Kuznetsov, is being dispatched to the Syrian coast. Meanwhile, the Russian air force claims to have completed 41 sorties in Syria over the last day.
The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.
The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed today that one of their fighters has approached a US Air Force aircraft to within visual range over Syria.
Russia’s state-owned RT reported that Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the MOD, said that a Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter had identified the aircraft as American.
The general said that on October 10 a Su-30SM fighter jet securing airspace in the zone of operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in Aleppo province detected radiation emitted from an unidentified aircraft and approached it to identify the bogie.
A Russian pilot estimated the distance between the aircraft as 2-3km.
After establishing visual contact with the US aircraft, the Su-30SM rejoined the task force group to continue the mission.
— Pierre Vaux
The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed this morning that their aircraft had conducted 41 sorties against 40 targets in Syria over the past 24 hours.
According to the MOD, jets struck targets in the Hama, Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo and Deir ez-Zor proivinces.
While Deir ez-Zor is certainly controlled by ISIS fighters, many of the other targets struck were once again in territory held by rebel groups at war with both the Assad regime and ISIS.
This video shows yet another air strike on Jubb al-Ahmar, in the hills west of the Ghab plain, where rebel fighters, including the First Coastal Division of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), are fighting regime forces.
Once again, the fighters bearing the brunt of attacks in Hama are often FSA-aligned units. This video shows fighters from the FSA-aligned Suqor al-Ghab, armed with US-supplied TOW missiles, destroying regime vehicles near Khirbat al-Naqus, in the centre of the Ghab plain:
Russian jets also struck rebel positions near regime-held Morek, north of Hama city, on the eastern edge of a rebel-held salient:
Russia’s recent air strikes near Aleppo have also been focused on rebel-held areas, despite ISIS fighters moving advancing on the other side of the city.
The Russian MOD has not specified where their strikes in the Aleppo region last night took place, but the news from the region indicates that ISIS is certainly not suffering.
Furthermore, there are claims, which have been repeated for several days now, that the Syrian regime took over an infantry school near Aleppo after it was taken from rebels by ISIS, suggesting cooperation between the Assad regime and the terrorist group.
There are reports from some Russian media sources today that Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, is being deployed to the Syrian coast to support Russia’s air operations in the country.
Russia’s FlashNord news site reported, citing a “source in the Northern Fleet command,” that the Admiral Kuznetsov would set sail from Murmansk by the end of the week.
The source told FlashNord (translated by The Interpreter):
“The carrier has undergone dock repairs and will, by the end of the week, set off for the shores of Syria, where it will join the operation to destroy the Islamic State group.”
According to FlashNord’s source, repairs on the carrier were completed in August and the navy has since then been restoring the vessel to full combat readiness.
However the Russian Northern Fleet has now denied these claims.
Gazeta.ru reports that the Northern Fleet’s press office released a statement this afternoon saying that no combat operations or long deployments were planned for the Admiral Kuznetsov in the near future.
The state-owned TASS news agency reported yesterday that work to restore the Admiral Kuznetsov to combat readiness had been completed and that the ship would leave Murmansk before the end of the week, setting out into Kola Bay, where it will be prepared for sea.
TASS did not mention any deployment to Syrian waters, instead reporting that the carrier would be used for pilot training operations.
The Admiral Kuznetsov was launched in 1985 but has only completed a handful of short deployments, suffering from major issues with its powerplant, piping and circuitry.
In 2013, The Interpreter‘s editor-in-chief, Michael Weiss, was told by a source close to the US Navy that American ships had stayed close to the carrier on its last deployment to Syria to be on hand in the event that the Admiral Kuznetsov sank.
Furthermore, the ski-ramp design of the carrier, combined with the heavy Sukhoi Su-33 fighters it carries, means that only light-load operations can be conducted from it.
There seems little benefit in using the Kuznetsov to bomb positions in Syria when the Hmeemeem/Bassel al-Assad airbase in the Latakia province is being used by heavily-laden Russian bombers.
Instead any deployment would either be a move to warn off Western air forces and navies from operating off Syria’s coast, or an emergency fall-back in the event that rebel fighters threaten the Latakia airbase.
— Pierre Vaux