A Russian warplane has crashed into the eastern Mediterranean as it was coming in to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier off the coast of Syria, in an embarrassing event to Russia which threatened to end the rebels’ presence in Syria with its newly deployed naval power.
The arrival of a Russian aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, into the Mediterranean and its heading to the Syrian coast suggested Moscow may intend to escalate its operations and deal one last blow to the rebels.
Aircraft stationed on the decks of Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov have begun carrying out flights aimed at working out interaction with a coastal airfield, according to Russia today.
The Russian Northern fleet battle group, consisting of Admiral Kuznetsov, the Pyotr Velikiy battle cruiser, two large anti-submarine ships Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov as well as support vessels, arrived in the Mediterranean in early November.
Earlier this week, Russian Defense Ministry said that the planes and vessels from the battle group are ready to attack the rebels’ targets on the outskirts of Syria’s Aleppo, help in retrieving it from their hands and preventing more rebels to advance to the city.
However, one of the warplanes deployed to this mission crashed on Monday.
The pilot of the MiG-29 jet ejected and his life was not in danger, according to the official account. The ministry attributed the crash to a “technical fault” during an exercise.
The plane was one of four MiG-29 fighter-bombers on the Kuznetsov and its loss undermines what was intended to be a display of Russian naval might in the Mediterranean in support of the Russian war effort in Syria.
“An aviation accident with carrier-based fighter MiG-29K occurred during exercise flights as a result of a technical fault during the approach landing a few kilometers from the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft-carrying cruiser,” ministry officials, quoted by the Sputnik news agency, said.
The loss of the plane is a serious one for the Russia military. The newly built MiG-29KUBR version is one of Russia’s most modern warplanes, and they are in short supply, as are pilots to fly them. Michael Kofman, of the Washington-based Center for Naval Analyses, said that by his estimate, the Kuznetsov now only had three MiG-29s left and only three pilots capable of flying them.
“This is bad publicity for what was supposed to be a show of capability,” Kofman said. “As many Russians feared, this could become an embarrassment.”
The ageing carrier has been plagued by technical problems since it was commissioned in 1990, and its steam turbine power plant is so unreliable it does not leave port without a sea-going tug in case it breaks down.
However, naval experts have warned the Kuznetsov’s firepower should not be written off, saying she still represents an “impressive capability.”
“The flights are performed from the deck of the aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser. Interaction with a coastal airfield is being worked out,” Sergey Artamonov, Admiral Kuznetsov’s captain said.
According to him, the flights have been carried out on a daily basis over the last four days.
The Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air power, Iranian ground forces and Shi’ite militia fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, has been tightening its grip on rebel-held districts of Aleppo this year, and this summer achieved a long-held goal of fully encircling the area.
The area has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.
Recovering full control of the rebels’ last significant urban area would be the most important victory of the war so far for Assad, strengthening his control over Syria’s most populous and strategically important regions.