The wider scene
Last week, an unconfirmed report was circulated on social media, announcing a Russian navy missile firing exercise off the Libyan coast, between Benghazi and Tobruk, (08-11 Jan). If indeed there was really a NOTAM released on this, then it suggested activity by the “Admiral Kuznetsov” group, (whose last confirmed AIS location was SW of Crete). *
Coincidentally, the following day, Libyan & Russian media reported on the visit of a Libyan military delegation headed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA). It took place onboard the “Admiral Kuznetsov” in Libyan waters, and also involved a videoconference with the Russian defence minister, Sergei Shoigu.
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Post-Gaddafi Libya rapidly fragmented into different quarrelling factions. Russia has mainly taken an interest in the LNA & the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) for some time now. This visit has come after both Aguila Saleh – the HoR president and Marshal Haftar has asked for Moscow’s assistance a number of times, (as well as also travelling to Moscow).
Libyan media also reported that Russia’s Chief of General Staff Gerasimov was in Tobruk for a meeting with Gen Haftar on the same day. However, there is absolutely no confirmation of this whatsoever.
Unsurprisingly, Haftar is labeled in the Western media as a “strongman”, as the LNA is not seen by the West in a good light since it is in opposition to the U.N.-backed ‘Unity’ government in Tripoli. Only the Tripoli-based government can import arms, however the LNA has also been battling Islamic terrorists for 2 years. This is due to the fact that Libya is subject to an U.N. arms embargo since 2011.
— LeDahu ن (@LepontDahu) January 12, 2017
Since this is the highest Russian military visit to eastern Libya so far, this direct in-country high-level visit is an unprecedented show of support.
Given the on-going NATO-instigated instability in Libya, still with potential to escalate, this might signal a desire by Moscow for a more participatory role in Libya. This will certainly raise eyebrows in NATO and in Washington too. But at the moment Washington is in a political limbo, (should that be shambles?), due to the Presidential transition and anyway most of it is far too busy with blaming Russia for it electoral & other woes.
On a side note, Tobruk was one of the most prized deep water port for the Allies in World War 2, resulting in the famous siege of Tobruk. It is quite probable that it might have a role in future cooperation with Russia. Intriguingly, rumours state that Haftar offered to refuel the Russian carrier, a possibility since it is a significant oil transhipment terminal.
Interestingly, the Russian auxiliary ships that usually activate their AIS, have them switched off. Likewise, NATO surveillance is somewhat muted. When the carrier group sailed down to Syria, US Navy P-8 air patrols monitored their progress. There is no open source indication that this is taking place this time round. On the other hand, there was plenty of air patrols scrambled for the Chinese carrier in recent days.
Russian Navy Bases
Fitting in with the stated Russian MOD concerns over NATO activity on Russia’s borders, the Russian military is continuing to actively consolidate its border air & sea defences, including many locations that had been simply abandoned in the 90s.
Additionally, The Russian Navy plans to install «Podsolnukh» Over-the-Horizon Radar systems in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea regions in 2017.
It is reported that the Russian military are looking at establishing a naval base in the area, quite possibly disquieting Japan. It’s not surprising really, considering Japan, along with South Korea are providing elements of the THAAD US missile defence shield, as stated in a Kremlin defence meeting
Since this is already a serious concern to Russia, on the Western border, inevitably its military presence in the Western Pacific is increasing too.
An visual overview of the new NATO “missile concerns”
— CSIS (@CSIS) January 13, 2017
The Northern Route
The Northern Fleet has just formally inaugurated two more Arctic stations on Kotelny Island (New Siberian Archipelago) and on Alexandra Land (Franz-Josef Land). This is part of the on-going wide expansion of land, sea & air military control in the Arctic region.
For the first time in the history of Arctic navigation, a westward ship convoy transited the Northern Route in late December, early January, led by the icebreaker “50 Let Pobedy“. (50 Years of Victory)
Naval & civil infrastructure & facilities are being put into place along this strategic shipping route. With this first historical voyage, the Northern Route could very well compete in the future with the traditional shipping routes, which are much longer, such as from Europe through the Suez to China and the Cape of Good Hope route.
I will write more extensively on this topic in a future brief.
The Northern Fleet
Last week, a Russian Navy Northern Fleet spokesman Serga said: “The crews of a number of surface ship groups have started preparations for long-haul expeditions to the seas of the Arctic Ocean, to various areas of of the Atlantic and to the Mediterranean basin,” .
Nothing new or spectacular in the Russian Navy’s statement, since it is routine to rotate units and deploy where necessary. Such a case is the “Admiral Kuznetsov”, now returning home. Two new Arctic bases are up and running. Finally, the Neustrashimy-class frigate, the “Yaroslavl Mudry” spent some time on deployment in the Atlantic, so it seems the Baltic Fleet is handing over the Atlantic ‘cruise’ slot to a Northern Fleet ship.
Russian Navy new builds
The commissioning trials for the Grigorovich class frigate “Admiral Makarov“ were temporarily paused for the orthodox New Year and Christmas holidays. It’s entry into service into the Baltic Sea Fleet is now overdue by a couple of months, but when it happens, will make a definite difference in modernising the fleet and boosting the Baltic Sea & air defences.
The Chinese NAVY
As previously reported, the “Liaoning” aircraft carrier has undertaken exercises in the South China Sea. In a situation very similar to how NATO behaves towards Russian military units, predictably, Taiwan & Japan dispatched aircraft & ships to keep a watch on the carrier’s route through the Taiwanese straits. RT’s report encapsulates the situation succinctly:
“Beijing’s naval exercises have unnerved its neighbors in the region – including Taiwan, which China claims as its own – amid long-running territorial wrangles in the South China Sea. ”
Receiving very little attention is the fact that the Chinese Navy is a longstanding active participant
in anti-piracy patrols & escort in the Horn of Africa region. In fact the 25th anti-piracy task group (frigates “Hengyang“ and “Yulin“, and oiler “Honghu“) took over last week from the 24th task group (destroyer “Harbin“, frigate “Handan“, and oiler “Dongpinghu“). The 24th group are now on their way home, but with probably a number of goodwill port visits enroute. It goes without saying that this is the cornerstone of a navy, to assist and protect merchant shipping and China is certainly playing a vital role with safeguarding this extremely strategic international maritime route.
As mentioned in a previous brief, (Number 4), NATO had been also participating in the region, (Op Ocean Shield), until the 2nd week of December, yet the EU is still has a presence and providing an anti-piracy mission. ( I wonder at how much blurring of roles and missions take place between wearing a NATO hat and wearing an EU one).
Lastly- back to the Syrian campaign
Previously, I reported on the departure of the aircraft carrier group, now I will mention the new arrivals to the eastern Mediterranean. The latest Russian Navy ship heading southward is the “Kovrovets”, 913, Natya class minesweeper, this is the 2nd deployment, having returned from 100day mission back in May. (Project 266M )
“Exit the Admiral Kuznetsov group, enter Su-25 aircraft”. (Hmm … Probably late in the season for bird migration). The arrival of 12 Su-25 at Khmeimim airbase in Syria on the 10th Jan, indicates a new phase in the Russian air support for Syrian ground troops. Given that they have upgraded navigational systems, these may be the Su-25SM3 version, back again in Syria, with Vitebsk pods and low visibility flying capabilities. If this is confirmed, then Syria is still well and truly a proving ground for new Russian military equipment & kit.
A group of Su-24 returned home, as part of a rotation of aircraft. I’d be interested in seeing what merits the use of a Su-25, over that of a Su-27.
The last word: despite the departure of the carrier group, Russia ‘can reinforce its task force in the Mediterranean at any time’. I would call this ” a parting shot”.
In other news
Some of the West’s MSM have picked up on the news of the Russian Navy introducing a new officer position of “deputy commander” for ships with more than 100 crew members. However, they are making it out that the role is a copy of a Soviet-time political officer, but actually it is more like staff captain role onboard cruise ships, aka people’ & welfare management
In short, the usual total nonsense from MSM numbskulls with an axe to grind. (In Russian)
Before the announcement of the news of Haftar’s visit I had originally written the following re the NOTAM:
“But why? Maybe because there is a context linked to a certain wish on the part of some Libyans for Russia to help them out with their fight against terrorists in the same way as it is in Syria. “