The largest deployment of Russian warships since the end of the Cold War is passing Portugal in miserable weather either today or tomorrow (Monday) en-route for Syria and what is believed to be a “final assault on the besieged city of Aleppo” in two weeks time.
According to Diário de Notícias Portuguese Armed Forces will “accompany” the massive aircraft carrier Kuznetsov, eight warships and a submarine with a naval frigate and a P-3 surveillance aircraft.
The Russian ships (all the country’s Northern fleet and much of its Baltic fleet) entered Portugal’s exclusive economic zone a few days ago, and is now steaming towards the Mediterranean.
It is unlikely to enter Portuguese territorial waters, unless weather conditions force it to seek temporary shelter closer to land.
Thus far, the ships have been escorted by vessels from Holland, UK, Belgium and Norway.
Once they pass Portugal, it will be the turn of other NATO vessels until the ships reach Russia’s naval base in the Syrian port of Tartous.
As a NATO source has told Reuters: “This is not a friendly visit”.
The Admiral Kuznetsov is carrying jet fighters (it has the capacity to transport 50 planes), and among the warships is the nuclear-powered Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) and anti-submarine destroyers.
NATO secretary general Jens Soltenberg has said that “Russian has the right to operate in international waters” but what worries NATO is what will come next.
The massive mobilisation will be joining 10 Russian ships already in Syria, “from which cruise missiles have been fired” already, explains DN.
NATO is due to discuss ongoing developments this week in Brussels, while the EU has already criticised Russia’s position in Syria, accusing Moscow of killing civilians.
Last Thursday’s European Council meeting ended with leaders of the 28 countries all “strongly condemning the attacks” on Aleppo by the Syrian regime aided by Russia.
EC president Donald Tusk said afterwards that Europe’s objective was not to increased tensions with Russia, but simply react to information.
Portugal’s prime minister António Costa was at the meeting, but “excused himself from making any declarations”, said Público.
Since then, minister of defence José Azerdo Lopes has attempted to play-down the situation saying “Neither I nor anyone else, as far as I know, has any information that allows them to say this is a situation of particular gravity. It could be – and I hope it is nothing more this – a kind of naval demonstration like so many others we have seen in the past”.