Russia deploys new aircraft carrier as new Syria offensive begins

Russia’s only aircraft carrier deployed for first time to launch missiles at targets in rebel-held Syria in show of military strength 

 

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Russia has begun a major military campaign on rebel-held parts of Syria after the country’s biggest surface deployment since the Cold War docked at a naval base on the Syrian coast.

Tthe new strikes on Homs and Idlib provinces are designed to wipe out al-Qaeda affiliated and Isis fighters, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

While he did not mention besieged east Aleppo, residents and activists in the city report dozens of strikes have hit opposition-held neighbourhoods in the last 48 hours, killing at least five civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

“Today, we started a major operation to launch massive strikes on [Isis] and al-Nusra Front targets in the Idlib and Homs provinces [in Syria],” Mr Shoigu said on Tuesday.

“For the first time in the history of participation of the Russian Navy in operations, the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrying cruiser began taking part. Our Su-33 aircraft began working from this cruiser today. Before this, we carried out very careful, thorough reconnaissance of all targets,” he said. 

The formidable Admiral Kuznetsov - commissioned in 1990 and recently refitted at a cost thought to exceed $1billion - is capable of launching cruise missiles at targets up to 250 miles (400 km) away.  Mr Shoigu said that strikes will target weapons depots and arms factories used by rebels. 

The blitz comes the day after a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President-elect Donald Trump in which the Kremlin said the two agreed on their “number one enemy” of international “extremism and terrorism.”

Russia began lending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad military assistance in September 2015, a move which has been credited with turning the balance of the war in the government’s favour. 

Its aerial campaigns are now backed up with the huge Black Sea naval deployment: the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier joins the Admiral Grigorovic and the Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) nuclear-powered battle cruiser, both of which arrived at the Russian naval base in the regime stronghold of Latakia on the Mediterranean two weeks ago. 

While British navy officials dismissed the huge deployment as “posturing,” the fleet poses a serious threat to rebels fighting the Russian-backed regime in Syria’s bloody civil war.

Aleppo offensive

The threat of the ships’ firepower has in effect cut off any possibility of aerial intervention by the US-led Western coalition, which broadly supports Syria’s rebels in the six-year-old conflict. 

Nato intelligence had previously warned that Mr Putin was planning a huge assault on Aleppo while the US was distracted by the November 8 election and its aftermath. 

The renewed attack comes after a month-long humanitarian moratorium on air strikes on the area and is feared to be a ‘final push’ to oust rebels from the city for good. 

The UN warned last week that east Aleppo’s trapped 250,000 residents - who have received no aid since July - are facing starvation this winter. 

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