A Russian aircraft carrier who reportedly destroyed over 1,000 targets in Syria is set to head to Britain.
Following a ceasefire deal between the Syrian government and opposition groups on 29 December, Moscow has agreed to scale back its military operations in the country.
The Russian armed forces’ chief of staff, Valery Gerasimov, said the country’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, would be the first to return to Severomorsk on Russia’s Arctic coast, near the border with Finland.
But in doing so it will retrace its trip to the Syrian port of Tartous when it crossed in British waters back in October – escorted by the Royal Navy’s Type 45 destroyers HMS Duncan and Type 23 frigate HMS Richmond as it sailed down through the North Sea and crossed the English Channel.
The 55,000-tonne vessel facilitated 420 sorties in two months of operation in Syria as Russian air strikes repeatedly bombarded rebel groups and Isis in Syria as Russian President Vladimir Putin propped up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Russian intervention in September 2015 is believed to have turned the tide of the war as Assad looked close to being toppled — despite Nato dismissing it as “posturing” at the time.
Gen Gerasimov said: “The successes of the Syrian armed forces in the liberation of Aleppo have created the necessary conditions for the peaceful settlement of the conflict. I’m confident that it will lay the basis for the political settlement of the conflict.”
Air strikes from the Admiral Kuznetsov on rebel targets marked the first time the carrier had been used in combat despite having been commissioned by the Soviet Union during the 1980s.
It lost two aircraft after an Su-33 and MiG-29 fighter jet crashed landed due to problems with the carrier’s landing systems.
The current ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition groups, has largely been upheld despite accusations of violations on both sides.
Peace negotiations are due to be held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan later this month though several rebel groups have already withdrawn.
Other than the departure of the Admiral Kuznetsov it is currently unclear how far Russia’s demilitarisation of Syria will go.
Gen Gerasimov declined to give further details on the departure of Russian forces from the region but Moscow continues to control two army bases in government-controlled Syria.