Russian Navy in the Eastern Mediterranean — snapshot of activity

A snapshot of the Russian Navy escorting Iranian shipping from the Suez Canal to Syria.

Back in April there was uncorroborated information circulated on social media, announcing that Russia was to protect the Iranian ships — in particular the tankers carrying vital oil supplies to Syria.  Yet, it wasn't readily known whether this would be a regular mission for the Russian Navy.   For a while now, tankers and cargo ships heading to Syria would go “dark” on AIS after transiting the Suez Canal. Hardly any Russian warship regularly uses AIS, so any information on escorts is sketchy to say the least.

The following article provides some details on an escort carried out by the Russian Nav back in October 2020.  Very little information is available on other escorts undertaken since then, until now. This is how the escort was framed by the UK tabloid newspaper, the Daily Express: with its lurid far-fetched clickbait headline,  — WW3 stuff, hardly.

The reality is more mundane, with all likelihood elements of NATO SNMG2 keeping tabs on both the Russian Navy in the region and also Iranian shipping, but it is Israel that has more at stake in this matter, (more on this later).  The UK sent a patrol ship to the region recently as part of the NATO 'Operation Sea Guardian'.  HMS Trent was last in Cyprus after having been off the coast of Port Said and also and the Levant coast too. Add this, NATO SNMG2 ships were in the Syrian channel (between Cyprus and the Levant).

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Overview of air missions — April 2021

From time to time, I gather and compile basic statistics on US / NATO/ Swedish flights principally near to Russia, (see previous articles posted here under the tag #air missions). The idea is to get a rough snapshot of the activity, location and types of aircraft that carry out intelligence-gathering missions, broadly known as Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance, (ISR), as well as those in direct support of those missions. It is a thankless and time-consuming task, but hopefully it can offer a semblance of having a wider perspective on issues, other than just riding on emotional off-one events, without providing any context.

The US and NATO (and Sweden) routinely send out a variety of aircraft dedicated for ISR missions along or in proximity to Russia. These missions are tasked with monitoring the military status quo, namely the movement of units and in particular the deployment of equipment and ships. Given the ongoing Ukraine-Russia tensions, the data collecting took on another aspect in the last month, namely what kind of activity and response could be seen. Well, the answer is that the skies got a little more crowded in April.

Going through the figures for April shows a marked overall increase in ISR the Black Sea region compared to other regions. Not surprising considering the military build-up in Crimea and in southern Russia, in response to the re-deployment of Ukrainian military hardware and units to Eastern Ukraine.

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Air missions — March update

Continuing with the series of intelligence-gathering and support aircraft missions around the periphery of Russian borders, mostly in the Baltic and Black Seas regions, but also the Barents as well. Below is a comparison between flights statistics collected for February and March 2021.

Image 1: March 2021 —  Overview of type of aircraft and location of activity
Image 1: March 2021 — Overview of type of aircraft and location of activity
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Naval sitrep 23rd March 2021

An update on the sitrep posted on the 19th.

Image 1 — AIS screenshots 23 March 2021
Image 1 — AIS screenshots 23 March 2021

The newest frigate of the Russian Navy, the 'Admiral Kasatonov' is in Greece — 23 to 26th of March.

The 'Ike', the US aircraft carrier (Dwight D. Eisenhower), was recently alongside in Souda, Crete, while one of the destroyer escort, the 'USS Thomas Hudner' did a quick navigational 'tour' in the Black Sea, having made its debut Bosphorus transit on the 20th, to only return back early on the 23rd March. Talk about a quick spin around the block.

The Russian Navy ' Stoiky' is waiting to transit the Suez Canal and return to the Mediterranean, (waiting because there is a mega containership 'Ever Given' blocking the canal, having run aground).