The Admiral Kuznetsov Aircraft Carrier – Mission & Goals (An Update)

MESOP : FACTS & DETAILS – October 27, 2016 Special Dispatch No.6655 / MEMRI

Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov is en route to Syria,[1] where it will be deployed for at least 6 months. On October 15, Russia’s Northern Fleet’s press service said that a group of warships headed by the aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov accompanied by the Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) heavy nuclear missile cruiser, the Severomorsk and Vice-Admiral Kulakov anti-submarine destroyer, and support vessels was sent to the Mediterranean to hold drills and reinforce capabilities. The Admiral Kuznetsov carries deck-based Su-33 and Su-25 aircraft, as well as Ka-27/Ka29 helicopters. The ship is 306 meters long and can simultaneously carry 25 planes, helicopters and 1980 servicemen.[2]

The flotilla conducted three-day exercises in the North Sea 273 kilometers off the Norwegian coast. The drills involved practice flights of the carrier’s aircraft. The exercises were closely monitored by the Norwegian navy frigate HNoMS Fridtjof Nansen. On October 21, the Admiral Kuznetsov passed though the English Channel. The UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon pledged that the Royal Navy would man-mark the Russian fleet.[3] However, the British newspapers and social media mocked the Admiral Kuznetsov billowing smoke as it passed close to Dover Strait. A naval expert at the Royal United Services Institute, Peter Roberts, said: “In naval folklore, there’s something called an unlucky ship and the Kuznetsov is undoubtedly an unlucky ship.” However, the Russian media claimed that British reactions were motivated by a desire to minimize the Russian fleet’s power. A blogger in Komsomolskaya Pravda said that the smoke emissions were deliberate: a ship emits short blasts, to greet the shore, and long blasts of smoke as a menacing signal.[4] “And now it’s your turn to think why the Russian flagship Kuznetsov traversed the English Channel under a ‘cap’ of smoke. Was it greeting the Englishmen or perhaps the very opposite,” wrote Komsomolskaya Pravda.[5]

A sardonic exoneration of the smoke-belching Kuznetsov appeared on Twitter. The smoke showed that the Kremlin was undecided over who would be elected as the new American president.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov said that the Admiral Kuznetsov is unlikely to exert control over the skies of Syria. Peskov said: “I do not think that it is necessary to keep somebody away, [or that] somebody can attack [the Syrian government forces] … as there are enough instruments to control the skies, to control the safety of our temporary infrastructure in Syria, which is why there is no such opportunity.”[6]

Northern Fleet admiral ret. Vyacheslav Popov explained that Admiral Kuznetsov is capable of performing missile strikes as well as air strikes. He added that the heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great is also capable of providing air cover, acting against submarines, collecting intelligence and more. Popov said that the deployment of a carrier group has two primary goals: “First, strategically our presence in the Mediterranean is our interest. In modern times, with the precision and the range of missile weapons our presence in the Mediterranean has grown in importance in order to provide security to Russia. Second, [it is important] to assist the Russian air-force in Syria, which conducts anti-terror operations in Syria.”[7]

According to Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, former commander Chief Naval Staff Directorate, it’s doubtful that the flotilla will be involved in launching a massive missile strike, but each ship may fire a few missiles. Kravchenko added: “Why not test our weapons in a real combat situation, especially as such a great opportunity has been granted.” However, former deputy of Chief of Naval Staff vice-admiral Vladimir Pepelyaev said that Russia’s mid-range P-700 Granit missile is unlikely to be fired against ground targets in Syria since they were designed against naval targets and are unsuitable for hitting ground targets. columnist Aleksandr Khrolenko exulted that while NATO forces were spinning their wheels in the Middle East sands the Russian navy was exerting control in the Atlantic after establishing its presence in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.  One result of “the cold Atlantic standoff” was to turn Western intentions of creating a-no-fly zone over Syria into “an unrealizable dream”.[8]


[1] The Admiral Kuznetsov was named after Soviet Admiral Nikolai Gersaimovich Kuznetsov, who achieved distinction in World War II.

[2], October 15, 2016.

[3], October 22, 2016.

[4], October 23, 2016.

[5], October 23, 2016.

[6], October 22, 2016.

[7], October 17, 2016.

[8], October 18, 2016.