(Stringer . / Reuters)
A large deployment of ships that Russia sent to the eastern Mediterranean under the guise of naval exercises at the end of September are actually being used to provide an aerial defense zone for Russian jets, Sam LaGrone reports for USNI News.
The "Black Sea-based Russian surface action group" in the eastern Mediterranean are based along Syria's coast by the Bassel al-Assad Airport and the Tartous naval facility, which is home to a Russian port.
The ships are intended to provide aerial defense for the Russian aircraft that Moscow is currently using to carry out airstrikes against Syrian rebels throughout the country.
Although not directly stated by official channels, the aerial defense zone is likely intended as defense against hypothetical US or coalition airstrikes against the Russian airstrips.
"The Russians did not know what the West’s response to beefing up the air presence at Latakia would be," Russian strategic analyst Igor Sutyagin told The Daily Mail.
"By moving big ships like this into place, Russia is sending a clear message to the Americans that if they were to attack the planes at Latakia, there would be a response."
A separate military source told the Russian news service Interfax-AVN that the vessels would conduct anti-aircraft missile tests against aerial targets in cooperation with ground-based defensive systems in the coming days.
The overall purpose of the tests was to measure "the efficiency of the system protecting the air base near Latakia from air strikes."
Russia's naval deployment features two guided-missile cruisers, several amphibious warships, a surveillance ship, and a landing ship, USNI News reports citing Turkish ship-spotting blog Bosphorous Naval News.
Moscow had previously claimed that the deployment was intended to train Russian ships in antisubmarine, antiship, and air defense situations. The ships were originally intended to be placed in the eastern Mediterranean through the end of October.
Russia began bombing targets within Syria last week claiming to be going after ISIS. Instead, Russia has bombed CIA-backed rebels and rebels aligned with al Qaeda that are targeting the Syrian government.
More From Business Insider