By Nat South for the Saker Blog
Photo op of US State Department delegation putting a foot into Idlib. Kelly Craft & James Jeffrey met with the White Helmets at the Turkish /Syrian border.
2. France News 24 (02/03)
3. U.S. Intel sources indicate… (06/03)
Rumour control: the ‘unconfirmed’, ‘unverifiable’ type as usual from journalists & media sources who diligently and blindly act as stenographers. Rather telling that a time when Syria & Russia have potentially achieved an important element of the 2018 Sochi agreement, (security corridor for M4 route & M5 secured), following talks between Erdogan & Putin in Moscow, we are now once more fed US anonymous intel stories about chemical weapon usage in Syria.
There a few other items of a similar kind of nature from the narrative keepers of regime change circulating on social media. I like to think that this isn’t a case of deja-vu, recalling events leading up to April 2018. I like to think I am completely wrong in having this feeling, but I cannot help sensing a brewing geopolitical storm that just keeps going. So, with this in mind, I will briefly outline what is the situation at sea, in the Eastern Mediterranean in particular.
To use an expression, keeping an eye on the ball on the current naval situation in the Eastern Mediterranean. Noteworthy is this: tweet from the U.S. Navy in Europe. The newly arrived U.S. carrier group trained with its French counterpart, ‘Charles de Gaulle’ which has been in the Eastern Mediterranean for a few weeks. Officially, the ‘Ike’ will be
The last time that the USS Dwight Eisenhower and ‘Charles de Gaulle’ operated together was in 2016. This wasn’t however the first time that the French nuclear carrier operated alongside a U.S. one though (2014). As such, it would be difficult to infer any imminent operations from such activities. I remember a few commentators on the verge of hyperventilating over the presence of USS carriers back April 2019. along with the presence of another in the region. Abraham Lincoln and John C. Stennis carrier strike groups carried out operations in the Mediterranean Sea.
The presence of either U.S. or French aircraft carriers does not mean rising tensions or imminent operations against Syria, (or vice versa). Ultimately, nothing happened in spring 2019 regarding naval tensions in the region. But there again, there wasn’t the surreal background issue of an intense conflict in Idlib between Turkey and Syria in the media glare. In addition, there is a continuing hostile rhetoric in the air and one example is the U.S. ambassador to the UN was quite vocal in supporting Turkish actions.
Thankfully, the recent conflict did not become a large-scale conflict involving external powers (NATO, USA & Russia). Although, while the situation was escalating on the ground, the Russian Navy did send 2 additional Black Sea Fleet based warships
through the Bosphorus on 28 February, reportedly to the Eastern Mediterranean. These were the frigates “Admiral Makarov” and “Admiral Grigorovich”. Not actually significant compared to the scale of the build-up in 2018 where at least an additional 6 Russian Navy ships & possibly 2 submarines were sent to the region in a 3-week period.
Contrary to some pundits, the arrival of the ‘Ike’ was not a response to escalating events over Idlib, since these deployments are planned a long time beforehand. Yet it was unusual in that it left straight after successfully completing the Composite Unit Training Exercise (COMPTUEX).
It seems weird to have the issue of chemical attacks pop up in the March/April period with the accusations that the “Assad Regime” has launched a chemical weapons attack on the so-called moderate opposition held areas. Then the West finger pointing at Russia and insults of anyone dissenting of being Russian propaganda mouthpieces. “Time will tell” and the April 2019 incident was shown to be a macabre false flag, highlighting serious concerns over manipulation of information & blatant bias of the resulting OPCW report, as confirmed by whistle-blowers.
Here is an outline of claimed reported chemical weapons attacks in March/April:
March 2013 Aleppo
April 2013 Saraqeb
April 2014 Kafr Zita
March 2015 Sarmin
April 2017 Khan Sheikhoun
(This resulted in an U.S. Tomahawk strike from 2 U.S. warships)
April 2018 Douma
(Multiple air / sea launched missiles strikes – U.S. UK & France).
April 2019 – claim made.
If you look at the date of the above 2019 article, it just happens to coincide with the presence of the two U.S. carrier groups in spring 2019. Worth noting is that the April 2018 strikes did not involve carriers at all. Effectively, the destroyers & submarines are already operating in the Eastern Mediterranean and it is only these that are needed to carry out sea-based missile strikes, (2017 & 2018).
Do we now have another round of rumours? Another round of brazen & contrived attempts to frame Syria & Russia as disinfo ops designed to trigger principally USA retaliation, at a time when the situation in Idlib has ended with a ceasefire to the advantage of Syria & Russia. Another sequel in the making? The Russian MoD stated recently that jihadists did attempt to carry out a chemical weapons attack to frustrate Syrian government forces but instead got poisoned themselves in Saraqeb.
As it stands, it is business as usual in the Mediterranean with the U.S. Navy, along with the USNS and the Russian Navy. The Russian Navy rescue ship ‘Prof. Muru’ is in the Eastern Mediterranean off Crete, possibly waiting and watching the U.S. Navy. One of the Admiral Grigorovich class deployed in the Mediterranean has left it, going through the Strait of Gibraltar on March 5 leaving two other frigates on station.
A bigger picture of the composition & types of ships Russian Navy forward deployed from Tartus is provided in this tweet. The main point is that the Russian Navy presence in the Eastern Mediterranean is largely to protect the Russian bases, not to counter NATO or the U.S. It is composed of very few combat ships and mostly logistical support. The main ASW backbone is the submarine force and the 2 frigates. That’s it. The only interesting event was the deployment in quick succession of 3 ships from the Black Sea as part of the regular longstanding Syrian Express, (BDK Orsk, Novocherkassk & Caesar Kunikov). It is the latest tangible support for operations in Idlib, especially with regards to providing new equipment and also replacements for equipment destroyed by the Turks. Lastly, that is not to say that the Russian Navy sits idly, every mission is a learning experience, with Syrian lessons fed back into across all level into the training infrastructure on the whole.
The only other significant Russian Navy warship that could beef up the contingent was last in Colombo, Sri Lanka. “Yaroslav Mudry”left on March 6. https://twitter.com/srilankaglobal/status/1236268463947165696 Additionally, the ‘Admiral Vinogradrov’ also called into Colombo.