Russian sea power deployed in Syrian campaign

Friday 04/12/2015
Russian Navy ships in the Caspian sea

WASHINGTON - While Russian air op­erations in Syria are gathering much me­dia attention, Russia is flexing another of its military options to smite the terrorists battling the government of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar Assad — sea power.

Russia began its Syrian counter­terrorist operations in late Septem­ber. Following a series of air strikes, on October 7th a Russian Caspian Flotilla frigate and three destroy­ers launched 26 cruise missiles at 11 targets in Syria. The missiles flew about 1,500km through Iranian and Iraqi airspace before hitting sites in Raqqa, Aleppo and Idlib provinces.

The Syrian ambassador to Rus­sia said the attacks took place after the exact locations of Islamic State (ISIS) bases were given to Russia. The missiles used in the strikes, the Kalibr 3M-14T, NATO designation SS-N-30A, represent an improved version of the Granat land-attack cruise missile, similar to the US Na­vy’s Tomahawk BGM-109.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said all the cruise missiles hit their targets, destroying them and causing no civilian casualties. The launches followed a wave of Russian air strikes in the same ar­eas.

A second series of cruise mis­sile launches on November 17th caused the European Air Safety Agency (EASA) to issue a Safety In­formation Bulletin (SIB) describing the low-level flight of the missiles across northern Iran and Iraq to reach Syria.

Most recently, Caspian Flotilla warships launched a volley of 18 cruise missiles at seven targets in Syria. The Russian Ministry of De­fence reported: “All targets were hit successfully.” The Caspian strikes were assisted by cruise missiles from Russian warships in the Medi­terranean, one of which Shoigu not­ed killed more than 600 terrorists in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province. Ten warships are deployed in Russia’s Syrian operation, six in the Mediter­ranean.

Given the barbarities perpetu­ated by ISIS in Syria and Iraq and now abroad in Egypt and Paris, one would think that Russia’s stout military response would win plau­dits but such is not the case on the political front. Russia supports As­sad’s remaining in power, a posi­tion anathema to the United States and Turkey, both of which support “good” jihadis seeking his ouster.

There are now two coalitions con­verging over Syria: a US-led one and a Russia-led one that includes Iran.

This divergence of political goals has intensified, leading to the No­vember 24th shooting down of a Russian Su-24M warplane by a Turkish F-16, which was bombing ethnic Turkmen in northern Syria battling Syrian government forces. Ankara maintains the Russian air­craft violated Turkish airspace, a charge Russia denies.

In reply, Shoigu said that the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship Moskva cruiser, which carries S-300 surface-to-air missiles among its armaments, was redeployed off the Syrian coast “and is ready to de­stroy any aerial target that presents a threat to our aviation”.

Russian naval deployments have a great advantage over both “boots on the ground” or air power, as Syrian ter­rorists can’t reach them. On shore, while Russian warships are using Latakia as a base, it is heavily guard­ed, and cruise missile launches from the Caspian are hundreds of kilometres from the war zone.

There is little sign that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in­tends to modify his bellicose stance against Russia’s Syrian policy, leav­ing open the possibility of further armed conflict. But Russia is hardly likely to back down, as militants from its turbulent Caucasian region have rallied to ISIS eager to sharpen combat skills before returning to their homes.

Accordingly, Russia’s Syrian strikes not only assist an ally but forestall terrorists from heading to Russia.

The result?


For now.

Over the past three centuries the Ottoman Empire fought more wars with Russia than any other country — 11 — and lost them all. As Erdogan seeks to recapture Ottoman glory, he seems to have overlooked the inconvenient fact that if pressed, Moscow might use its armed forces, including its navy, to remind him.