Russia has ordered its only aircraft carrier to return home, part of a general drawdown of forces involved in the Syria conflict, a senior general announced on Friday.
The carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, was sent to the eastern Mediterranean in the fall to mount airstrikes and other missions in support of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But the voyage became more of a show of force than an actual extension of it.
The trip was the first combat mission for the Soviet-era ship, and it apparently was used to work out some teething problems for Russian naval aviation, which has never been a primary focus of the country’s military.
The black-smoke-spewing Admiral Kuznetsov has an air wing of just 15 planes, much smaller than Western fleet carriers, which have about 60, and it experienced a number of problems on the voyage.
Two of its 15 aircraft crashed while trying to land on the carrier. In both cases, the pilots ejected and survived. The remaining planes operated for a time from the Russian air base at Latakia, on land in western Syria, rather than from the carrier.
The mission was only the eighth long-distance voyage the mechanically troubled ship has undertaken since it was commissioned in 1990. During a military exercise in the Mediterranean in 1996, its distillation equipment broke down, leaving the crew of 2,000 short of potable water; the American Navy came to its aid.