One month ago we reported that in the latest naval escalation involving the US and Russia, one which would make the eastern Mediterranean a carbon copy of what it looked like three years ago during the peak of 2013 Syrian conflict which almost ended in war between Russia and the US, Russia announced it would deploy its only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov to the coast of Syria.
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.
Now, according to a report by the Norwegian military which released pictures taken by surveillance aircraft, we know that the Kuznetsov accompanied by a fleet of Russian warships, is currently on its way to Syria and is sailing in international waters off the coast of Norway near Trondheim. Photos of the vessels, which include the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the Pyotr Velikiy battle cruiser, were taken near Andoya island, in northern Norway on Monday.
As reported by Reuters , a spokesman for the Norwegian military intelligence service said the country's armed forces frequently releases such footage, while newspaper VG quoted General Morten Haga Lunde, head of the service, as saying the eight ships involved "will probably play a role in the deciding battle for Aleppo". According to Russia's TASS state news agency, the aircraft carrier would carry 15 Su-33 and MIG-29K jet fighters and over 10 Ka-52K, Ka-27 and ??-31 helicopters.
The naval group which includes the carrier and its escort of seven other Russian ships, is the most powerful Russian naval task force to sail in northern Europe since 2014, Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily reports. The carrier can carry more than 50 aircraft and its weapons systems include Granit anti-ship cruise missiles.
Next in the flotilla, in terms of firepower, is the Russian nuclear-powered battle cruiser Peter the Great.
The Kirov-class cruiser Peter the Great escorts the carrier
As BBC adds, a Norwegian Lockheed P-3 Orion reconnaissance plane, monitoring the force, photographed the ships. MiG-29 Fulcrum jets and combat helicopters were visible on the carrier's deck.
The other Russian surface ships in the group are: two large anti-submarine warships - the Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov - and four support vessels.
Several of the task force ships are shown in this Norwegian photo
Norway did not appear to be fazed by the passage of the Russian flotilla in international waters: "The Kuznetsov Task Group situation is normal routine for the Norwegian military," said Norwegian military spokesperson Maj Elisabeth Eikeland. "The only unusual thing is the amount of ships," she told the BBC.
The group will beef up the Russian naval presence off the Syrian coast - Russia already has about 10 ships there. During its bombardment of anti-government rebels in Syria that force has fired cruise missiles.
In an article headed "Moscow's Maritime Fist" the Russian armed forces channel TV Zvezda said several submarines would probably move from the Atlantic to escort the flotilla.
Meanwhile, commenting on the Russian flotilla, a Royal Navy spokesperson said: "UK and Nato assets routinely monitor warships from other nations when they enter our area of interest and this will be no different."
More importantly, when the group reaches Syria the Russian navy will rival the firepower of the US Sixth Fleet in the region, Russian media report. As such, the possibility of a provocation on either side rises substantially. This is particularly notable in light of the recent report that having launched a military assault on Yemen due to alleged attacks by Houthi rebels on a US warship traveling in the Red Sea, subsequently the Pentagon admitted it was no longer confident the attack had originated from Yemen, suggesting the failed missile attack may have been in fact a false flag, potentially originating out of Saudi Arabia.