One month ago, in a move which US military officials admitted was aimed squarely at "sending a clear message to Russia", the US deployed not one but two aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean: the USS Truman and USS Eisenhower. As we reported at the time, a military official in Washington said the Truman’s shift was a signal to Moscow and a demonstration of the Navy’s operational flexibility and reach. “It provides some needed presence in the Med to check…the Russians,” the official said. “The unpredictability of what we did with Truman kind of makes them think twice.”
The Truman would not be alone: the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group will allegedly support “US national security interests in Europe.” “The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (IKE CSG) entered the US 6th Fleet area of operations [...] in support of US national security interests in Europe,” the US European Command (EUCOM) has announced.
Naturally, in addition to sending Russia a message, the official reason was to further punish the perpetual scapegoat for all military activity in the region, the Islamic State: "Washington claims that the increased military presence is aimed at fighting Islamic State and balancing Russian extensive military efforts. “The presence of two carrier strike groups in the Mediterranean Sea demonstrates our commitment to safety and security in the region,” the statement read. “These forces further serve to support European allies and partners, deter potential threats and are capable of conducting operations in support of the counter-ISIL [Daesh] mission.”
As the WSJ notes, Rear Adm. Bret Batchelder, the highest-ranking officer on the carrier, told visiting reporters this week that moving the “capital ship” of the U.S. Navy from the Gulf through the Suez Canal is a flexing of muscle meant to reassure North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies of the American commitment to maintaining the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean. “It is a demonstration of capability. That’s for sure,” he said. “There are undoubtedly folks who are watching that and this is just a graphic representation of what we’re capable of.”
The implication from this escalation was clear, and this is how we concluded less than a month ago:
"while the US may be hoping to "check" the Russians, all this action which will be seen as the latest provocation by the Kremlin will do is further strain already chilly relations between Russia and the US.... We expect Russia to respond by promptly deploying warships of its own to the Mediterranean in a repeat of the summer of 2013 when the beach off the Syrian coast was a parking lot of Russian, US, European and even Chinese warships."
Once again this assessment proved correct, and as Tass reports, citing a military-diplomatic source in Moscow, Russia will respond to the US double aircraft carrier escalation, by deploying its own aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, to Syria where its unofficial role will be as a counterpoint to US naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean. The official justification for the deployment is the same as that of the US: to crush the Islamic State of course, to wit: "the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier will participate in delivering strikes against militants in Syria from an eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea in October 2016 - January 2017, a military-diplomatic source in Moscow told TASS on Saturday."
A military and diplomatic source told TASS earlier that the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov would arrive in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea in autumn. The ship is currently undergoing shipbuilders’ trials in the Barents Sea after repairs.
"The General Staff has prepared a plan for involvement of the deck aircraft in delivering strikes on terrorist groups in the Syrian Arab Republic, where the crews will practice taking off the carrier to deliver strikes on ground targets."
Not only that, but according to the Russian source, the Kuzentsov will henceforth lead the the Russian navy's "permanent grouping" in the Mediterranean, meaning that at any one moment there will be at least on Russian and, correspondingly, at least one (or more) US carriers.
Thus, the source said, in autumn-winter, the strikes will be delivered both by the crews located at the Hmeymim Base, and the aircraft carrier’s crews "in most close coordination." "The Admiral Kuznetsov," which will lead the Russian Navy’s permanent grouping in the Mediterranean Sea, will be close to the Syrian shore "so that the deck aircraft have enough fuel to complete the military tasks and return back," the source said.
During the voyage, the source continued, the Admiral Kuznetsov "will have about 15 fighters Su-33 and MiG-29K/KUB and more than ten helicopters Ka-52K, Ka-27 and Ka-31."
"The aircraft carrier will come to the Mediterranean Sea roughly before end of January - early February, after that it will return home and in February-March it will undergo maintenance and modernization in Severodvinsk, supposedly at Sevmash," the source added.
TASS added that it does not have official confirmation of this information, although we expect the Kremlin will shortly confirm this Russian response to the build up of US naval forces in the region, in keeping with Putin's warning that he will promptly respond to the growing build up of NATO forces on Russia's borders.