Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov arrived in the eastern Mediterranean, off the Syrian coast, a naval commander told Russian television.
Russia's only aircraft carrier is part of a convoy of Russian warships deployed to reinforce the country's military intervention in Syria.
Sergei Artamonov, the commander of Admiral Kuznetsov, told state TV that the ships have arrived at the "designated zone... in the eastern Mediterranean" and "are now jointly carrying out tasks, maneuvering to the west of the Syrian coast." The remarks were reported by AFP.
According to the report, Artamonov was speaking to Russia-1 via a videolink for a news broadcast that is to air on Saturday evening.
The ship commander was quoted as saying that jets have already taken off from the aircraft carrier to survey the conflict area.
"Flights are being carried out from the deck ... they are working on coordination with the shore port," he said. "The flights have been going on practically every day for the last four days."
The Russian Interfax news agency had quoted a Russian military and diplomatic source on Friday as saying that MiG and Sukhoi jets have been regularly flying above Syria from the Admiral Kuznetsov to "determine combat missions."
Interfax said that preparations are underway for the carrier and escorting ships to launch strikes against militants. The fighter jets do not have sufficient range or payload for long sorties.
The carrier group's mission near Syria's shores marks the largest Russian naval deployment since the Soviet collapse. It allows the military to test its carrier-borne fighters in combat for the first time.
The Admiral Kuznetsov carries about 20 fighter jets, adding to some 30 warplanes Russia has at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria's coastal province of Latakia.
A leftover from the days of Soviet power, Admiral Kuznetsov has a long history of mishaps, at sea and in port, and diesel engines which were built for Russia’s cold waters – as shown by the column of black smoke raising above it. It needs frequent refueling and resupplies and has never been operationally tested.
While its contribution to the Russian war effort in Syria is likely to be minimal, the aircraft carrier is a potent symbol of the Kremlin’s intentions to continue influencing events in the region.
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