Russia launches first Syria strikes from submarine
Russia flexed its military muscles on Tuesday as it launched strikes in Syria for the first time from a submarine stationed in the Mediterranean, ratcheting up its bombing campaign in the war-torn country.
Moscow’s latest strikes have hit “300 targets of different kinds” in the past three days and helped Syrian special forces recover the black box of the Russian warplane downed by Turkey last month, defence minister Sergei Shoigu said.
“We used Calibre cruise missiles from the (Kilo-class) Rostov-on-Don submarine from the Mediterranean Sea,” Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin during an encounter broadcast on state television.
“As a result of the successful launches by the aviation and submarine fleet, all targets were destroyed,” Shoigu said, adding that oil infrastructure, ammunition depots and a mine-making factory had been hit in the strikes.
“The Calibre cruise missile once again showed its effectiveness over long distances.”
Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria on September 30, saying it needed to target Islamic State jihadists — but the West has accused Moscow of seeking to prop up Assad’s regime and hitting moderate rebels.
Moscow stepped up strikes against IS after the group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in October, killing all 224 people on board.
The defence ministry said Tuesday’s submarine strikes had destroyed “two important command centres” around Raqqa, IS’s de facto Syrian capital.
Moscow is once again flaunting its military might after having previously fired missiles from warships in the Caspian Sea.
Putin said Tuesday that the Calibre missiles launched from the submarine could be equipped with nuclear warheads — but said he hoped they would “never be needed in the fight against terrorism”.
– Advance warning –
Shoigu said Moscow had warned Israel and the United States — conducting their own military operations in Syria — that the Russian military would be conducting the submarine strikes.
The Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed that Russia had in fact provided advanced warning, a gesture it said it “appreciated” given that the Kremlin was not obliged to communicate the information to Washington under a memorandum signed to avoid incidents in Syrian airspace.
The Russian defence ministry said it had upped the intensity of its strikes in Syria since Saturday, dropping 1,920 bombs over the past four days to destroy 70 command centre, 21 training grounds and 43 arms depots, among other targets in the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia and Palmyra.
Long-range Tu-22M3 bombers hit 30 targets in the Raqqa and Deir-Ezzor provinces, the ministry said.
Shoigu said that Russia had “actively worked” on the region where Turkey downed a Russian war jet on the Syrian border on November 24, allowing Syrian special forces to recover the plane’s black box.
Putin ordered that the black box be analysed “together with foreign experts”.
Moscow and Ankara are locked in a bitter feud over the November 24 downing of the jet on Turkey’s border with Syria, sparking fury and economic sanctions from the Kremlin.
Putin said an analysis of the black box would help determine the downed jet’s flight path and position, which Ankara and Moscow have furiously disagreed upon.
Turkey says the Russian jet strayed into its airspace and ignored repeated warnings, while Moscow insists it did not cross from Syria and has accused Ankara of a planned provocation.
But Putin warned that no black box findings could assuage Moscow’s anger at Ankara downing of the jet, which left one of its pilots dead. Another Russian serviceman was killed in the rescue operation.
“Whatever we learn (from the black box) won’t change our attitude to what the Turkish authorities did,” the Russian strongman said.
“We used to treat Turkey not only as our friend but also as an ally in the fight against terrorism, and nobody expected this low, treacherous stab in the back.”