Following the Syrian army’s victory in Aleppo the Russian Defence Ministry has confirmed that the Russian fleet sent to the eastern Mediterranean earlier in the autumn, including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the nuclear powered missile battlecruiser Pyotr Veliky, are being withdrawn to Russia.
This was always the plan. There was never any suggestion that the deployment was intended to be anything other than a temporary one.
The precise part the Russian fleet played in the battle of Aleppo is difficult to gauge. However it is unlikely to have been decisive or significant. The fleet deployment seems to have been intended to provide the Russian fleet with experience in carrier combat operations – something entirely new to Russia – whilst beefing up Russia’s air defence forces in Syria at a time of a crucial battle in Syria, when there were threats from some quarters to interfere with those operations by establishing a no-fly zone.
In other words the fleet’s mission was a combination of training exercise and deterrence. It has been successful on both counts.
Russian media reports from before the Admiral Kuznetsov’s deployment to the eastern Mediterranean suggested that after it completed its mission it would undergo a major refit, which would involve replacing its troubled engines and sorting out the various problems in its systems which have dogged the carrier throughout its life. On top of some of the known problems with the carrier’s systems – for example with its heating and water systems – the Russians are now aware of further problems with its arrestor cables (which have caused at least two accidents) and no doubt of other problems of which we know nothing.
The Russians now know to fix them, which it was always the plan after the deployment that they would do. The result will be a more potent and effective warship once the refit is done, which however will take years.
Once the refit is done there is a strong possibility that the Admiral Kuznetsov will be redeployed to the Mediterranean on a semi-permanent basis. The Admiral Kuznetsov as a medium sized conventional carrier appears better adapted to Mediterranean conditions than it does to those of the north Atlantic. In the Mediterranean it is a powerful symbol of Russian political resolve and naval strength, whereas in the north Atlantic, where it is dwarfed and outnumbered by the far more powerful and numerous nuclear supercarriers of the US navy, its role is less obvious.
The Russians have said that the repair facility at the Syrian port of Tartus, which is currently being enlarged into a full sized naval base, is being equipped to handle carriers. Probably it is the Admiral Kuznetsov that will be based there.