On January 6, 2017, the Russian Ministry of Defense recalled the aircraft carrier group led by the Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier. The carrier group was deployed in the Mediterranean for two months. The Russian Ministry of Defense released for publication footage of a Russian commanding officer in Syria reporting to the Chief of Staff on the operational results of the Russian aircraft carrier group's presence in Syria. Russian Chief of Staff and Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov officially confirmed that the aircraft carrier group was leaving the region.
While one commentator voiced optimism that the recall meant that Russia had avoided another Afghanistan, a more pessimistic view argued that the ceasefire was fragile due to the antagonism between Turkey and Iran, and it was necessary to enlarge the ceasefire to involving the United States and the Arab Gulf countries.
The Admiral Kuznetsov (Source: Vs.milrf.ru)
Russian Chief of Staff Gerasimov: 'The First To Leave The Conflict Zone Will Be The Aircraft Carrier Group… Led By The Heavy Aircraft Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov'
On January 6, 2017, Russian Chief of Staff and Deputy Defense Minister Valery Gerasimov stated that the aircraft carrier group was leaving the Mediterranean.
Valery Gerasimov: "My greetings to the respectful comrades. From 00 hours, December 30, 2016, the ceasefire has been in force throughout all Syrian territory. This ceasefire does not include the international terror organizations. In compliance with the decision of Supreme Commander Vladimir Putin, the MOD has started to diminish the scale of its forces deployed to Syria. The first to leave the conflict zone will be the aircraft carrier group of the Northern Fleet Command, led by the heavy aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. Let me stress that the Navy's involvement in the fight against the terrorist groups enabled us to liberate Aleppo, Syria's economic capital, in a short period of time. Let me ask General Colonel Kartopolov, commanding officer of the Syrian forces, to report on the operational results of the aircraft carrier group. Please go ahead."
General Colonel Kartopolov: "Copy that. Comrade, the Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces, on November 8, 2016, the aircraft carrier group of the Northern Fleet Command, including the heavy aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, the heavy atomic missile destroyer Peter the Great, and other ships from the Black Sea Command began active duty along the territory of Syria. For the first time in the history of the Russian Navy, the Navy aviation crews flew in an operational environment, including attacking ground targets. During the two months of deployment, the Navy aviation pilots conducted 420 operational sorties, 117 of which were conducted at night. Almost all the flights were conducted in complex hydro-meteorological conditions. In total, 1,252 terror targets were hit."
See MEMRI TV clip No. 5835, Russian Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov: We Are Diminishing Our Military Presence in Syria, January 6, 2017.
Senator Ozerov: 'The Decision To Begin The Transfer Of A Fleet Carrier Group… Is An Act Of Russia's Good Will'
Commenting on the reduction of Russia’s military presence in Syria, the Chairman of the Federation Council's Defense and Security Committee, Senator Viktor Ozerov, said: "Thursday's decision to begin the transfer of a fleet carrier group of the Russian Armed Forces led by the Admiral Kuznetsov from the Mediterranean Sea to Severomorsk [Russian northern military base] is an act of Russia's good will within the framework of the earlier announced ceasefire regime." The senator added that in case of necessity, Russia may use strategic aviation or cruise missiles as it has previously done in Syria.
Colonel (ret.) Perendzhiev: Russia Avoided A Second Afghan War
Colonel (ret) Aleksandr Perendzhiev, an associate professor of political science and sociology at Plekhanov Russian Economic University, said: "When the deployment to Syria was announced back in autumn 2015, many said that it's going to be a second [disastrous] Afghanistan war for Russia. I think the planned entry and the planned troop reduction last spring and now prove that [Russia] succeeded in avoiding a protracted resource-draining military campaign."
Prof. Vladimir Isaev: The Reduction Of Russian Forces In Syria Is Virtual
According to Moscow State University Professor Vladimir Isaev, the reduction of Russian forces in Syria is virtual, since the aircraft carrier group has never been considered as "reinforcement forces." He stressed that the main group in Hmeimim airbase and in Tartus is not being reduced.
Arabist Leonid Isaev, who lectures at the Department for Political Science of the Higher School of Economics, agreed with Prof. Vladmir Isaev. He believes that the Russian troop level in Syria exceeds requirement for maintaining military bases in working order.
"At least, all sides have stated that the intensity of combat activity has significantly decreased after the ceasefire was announced. It is clear that some exchanges of gunfire will take place anyway, but essentially, this will work in the short term perspective." But then again, this peace is the kind that is advantageous right here and now to the three specific sides. But the situation may change in two months.
And if the Turks, theoretically speaking, feel that they can lay real claim to another bit of Syria and there is nobody to stop them, they will do so. Because no matter what we agree on with Iran and Turkey – we are still rivals. And Turkey’s policy, on the whole, is to weaken Iran’s position. And vice versa. And both are not really happy about the fact that Russia, too, aspires to something there now. Their potential goal is to make our position not too strong either."
Leonid Isaev emphasized that, if other players – the Gulf states and the Western countries – do not join the ceasefire at a later stage, this peace is "provisional" Later, peace may turn into war again. There are plenty of examples – like the March Russian-American agreements on ceasefire in Syria. Then, too, everybody said that fire intensity went down, but since Russia and the US failed to bring other sides to their agreement, there were numerous provocations, and in the end, the Russian-American settlement model went bust", the expert concluded.