Russian warships in the Mediterranean have played an instrumental role in Moscow’s counter-terrorism operations in Syria, and have also served to counterbalance the large NATO presence in the region.
The Vice-Admiral Kulakov, an Udaloy-class antisubmarine warfare destroyer attached to Russia’s Northern Fleet, has entered the Mediterranean Sea after passing the Strait of Gibraltar, and is now on its way to join the Russian Mediterranean Squadron operating off Syria, the Northern Fleet’s press service reported Wednesday.
The ship plans a stopover for resupply at an anchorage point in the Alboran Sea before heading further east.
The Vice-Admiral Kulakov left the Northern Fleet home base of Severomorsk on 28 June, heading for the Baltic Sea to take part in last month’s grand naval parade off St. Petersburg. After that, the warship took part in command and staff exercises in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Vice-Admiral Kulakov one of seven active Udaloy-class anti-submarine guided missile destroyers in the Russian Navy’s arsenal. Commissioned in 1981 and returned to service in 2010 after a deep refit, the 6,200 tonne warship is equipped with the latest Russian anti-submarine, anti-ship and air defence missiles, anti-sub torpedos, and other weaponry. The ship is also fitted with the new Fregat-MAE 3D radar system, jamming and decoy equipment, and a helicopter and hanger carrying the Kamov Ka-27 series helicopters –the longtime workhorse of Russian naval aviation.
Formally known as the ‘5th Operational Formation of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean Sea’, Russia’s Mediterranean squadron has been operating in the eastern part of the body of water since 2013 after a decade plus hiatus following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The squadron’s ships are rotated regularly, and it includes ships from the Northern, Baltic, Black and Pacific Fleets. The Mediterranean squadron has proven instrumental in Russia’s counterterrorism assistance to the Syrian Arab Republic starting in 2015, and its ships have repeatedly launched cruise missiles against terrorist targets, while also assisting Damascus by covering the country’s western shores from potential foreign naval attack.
In June, in the wake of a British destroyer’s attempt to sail through Russian waters off Crimea, Russian warships from the Mediterranean squadron conducted tit-for-tat drills near the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, which was stationed in the area at the time.
Despite their relatively low-key presence compared to NATO, which maintains large forces in the region, including the United States Sixth Fleet, Russian Navy ships in the Mediterranean are known to occasionally cause headaches for the Western alliance, with subs in particularly regularly reported as a special source of consternation over their alleged tendency to silently ‘stalk’ NATO vessels.