The Russian Navy is preparing to strike rebel positions around the Syrian city of Aleppo with cruise missiles and carrier-based aircraft – a contradiction of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s claims that a naval buildup off the Syrian coast is not related to combat operations.
A source within the Russian Defense Ministry informed the leading Russian-language publication Gazeta that the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the guided missile cruiser Peter the Great would launch new strikes on Wednesday. The source indicated that Russian forces would target rebel units outside of the city. "Over the next two or three days, we will be able to destroy hundreds of [rebels] on the outskirts who are preparing for a breakthrough," the source said.
Interfax confirmed the reports and said that an attack would begin within hours.
The announcement of the airstrikes coincides with the final day of the American presidential election.
Russian and allied Syrian government airstrikes within Aleppo have caused so many civilian casualties that U.N. officials have described them as war crimes. "If knowingly committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against civilians, they constitute crimes against humanity," said Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the top U.N. human rights official, in a video address late last month.
The Russian military's general staff warned civilians and rebels to depart the city during a ten-hour ceasefire last Friday, a move widely seen as a final preparation before a renewed assault on the city.
The carrier Kuznetsov is the Russian Navy's flagship; if it is used to launch airstrikes in Syria, it will be Russia's first foray into carrier-based combat operations. However, analysts are divided over her usefulness in combat. Kuznetsov's jump-ramp takeoff system limits fighter-bombers to a light weapons load and a smaller quantity of fuel than they would be able to carry if launched by steam catapult, restricting their range and their fighting capability. Instead, some argue that the Kuznetsov is stationed off of Syria primarily as a show of force, and that shore-based assets will remain Russia’s primary fighting force in the Aleppo campaign.