In a further escalation of conflict in Syria, Russia has sent a naval group led by its aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov to launch strikes on rebel regions surrounding the war-torn city of Aleppo as Syrian President Bashar Assad attempts to regain control of the country with Moscow’s help.
“The attacks are to hit the long-range approaches to the city,” a Russian defense ministry spokesman told the Interfax news agency.
Other than the Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, the group also consists of the Pyotr Veliky nuclear power guided missile cruiser and two destroyers, and has completed its transfer to the Mediterranean Sea, a Russian Ministry of Defense source told local media Gazeta.ru.
“The group's main goal is to carry out missile strikes on terrorists outside of Aleppo that are attempting to get into the city,” the source added.
According to reports, the Russian Navy is expected to strike Aleppo with 3M-14 Kalibr-NK cruise missiles along with carrier-based Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker-D and MiG-29KR Fulcrum-D fighters.
The Kuznetsov is equipped to carry 10 Su-33 and four multirole MiG-19KR fighters, along with 10 helicopters — the Ka-52K Katran gunships, Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopters and Ka-31 airborne early warning platforms.
While the use of the Kalibr-NK cruise missiles is being reported by numerous sources, it is not clear which of the Russian vessels will be carrying out the attacks as the country also has task forces based out of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
Gazeta.ru’s source said that the final decisions were currently being made and Russia was attempting to figure out the locations where the “terrorists” were holed up, along with coordinates of their training facilities and storages.
“The strikes will avoid the city of Aleppo to prevent civilian casualties, because terrorists continue to use city residents as human shields,” the source added.
Aleppo has been one of the biggest theaters of fighting in the Syrian civil war but Russian naval strikes are not likely to bring an end to the violence. According to reports, the latest deployment is a show of force on Russia’s part to its western rivals, especially the United States.
“The comments from the Russian Ministry of Defense suggest they are more interested in the world seeing Russia's naval capabilities in action than the world seeing Russia live up to its word,” a senior U.S. official told VOA News. “An escalation would make it harder to resolve the brutal civil war in Syria and raise more doubts about Russia's commitment.”