Syria Tensions Escalate with Massive Russian Naval Exercise and Deployment of Nuclear-capable Tactical Missiles
October 21, 2016 Ben Farmer and Barney Henderson Roland Oliphant / The Telegraph & TASS
Russia has begun its biggest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War as it aims to effectively end the war in Syria on the eve of the US election. The Kremlin is sending the full might of its Northern Fleet and part of the Baltic Fleet to reinforce a final assault on the city of Aleppo. At the same time, Moscow has commenced drills inside Western Russia involving more than 20 pieces of combat hardware including nuclear-capable tactical missiles.
Russia Taunts US with Biggest
Military Offensive Since the Cold War Ben Farmer and Barney Henderson Roland Oliphant / The Telegraph
(October 19, 2016) -- Russia has begun its biggest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War as it aims to effectively end the war in Syria on the eve of the US election, NATO officials warned last night.
The Kremlin is sending the full might of its Northern Fleet and part of the Baltic Fleet to reinforce a final assault on the city of Aleppo in a fortnight, according to Western intelligence. The final bombardment is designed to shore up the Assad regime by wiping out rebels -- paving the way for a Russian exit from the civil war.
The assault on the city will also serve to highlight US inaction in the run-up to election day and may aid Donald Trump.
Yesterday, ahead of this morning's debate with Hillary Clinton, his presidential campaign released a letter from defense experts backing plans to increase the size of the US military.
Royal Navy warships are due to escort a group of eight Russian warships, including the country's only aircraft carrier, as they sail past the UK on their way to the Mediterranean.
Senior Royal Navy officers expect the task force to sail past the UK as early as Thursday in a show of strength dismissed as "posturing" by defense sources. But a senior NATO diplomat said the deployment from the Northern Fleet's base near Murmansk would herald a renewed attack in Aleppo.
"They are deploying all of the Northern Fleet and much of the Baltic Fleet in the largest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War," the diplomat said. "This is not a friendly port call. In two weeks, we will see a crescendo of air attacks on Aleppo as part of Russia's strategy to declare victory there."
The additional military firepower is designed to drive out or destroy the 8,000 rebels in Aleppo, the only large city still in opposition hands, and to allow Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to start a withdrawal.
An intensified air campaign in eastern Aleppo, where 275,000 people are trapped, would further worsen ties between Moscow and the West, which says the Kremlin may be responsible for war crimes.
Mr. Trump has consistently praised Mr. Putin as a strong leader and has promised a closer relationship with Russia if he wins the Nov 8 US election. He has suggested that, if elected, he would meet the Russian president before the inauguration in January.
Mr. Putin has returned the compliment, calling the Republican nominee "outstanding and talented" -- one of his closest political allies, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, urged Americans to vote for Mr. Trump, calling him a "gift to humanity".
Barack Obama said earlier this week that Mr. Trump's admiration of Mr. Putin was "unprecedented in American politics." Mr. Obama said: "Mr. Trump's continued flattery of Mr. Putin and the degree to which he appears to model many of his policies and approaches to politics on Mr. Putin . . . is out of step with not just what Democrats think but out of step with what up until the last few months, almost every Republican thought."
The Royal Navy has deployed two warships to meet the Northern Fleet group, led by the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. The frigate HMS Richmond is already escorting the group off the coast of Norway, while the destroyer HMS Duncan was last night on its way.
HMS Dragon is due to sail to meet two Russian corvettes travelling towards the UK from the direction of Portugal. Photographs of the vessels, taken on Monday, were released by the Norwegian military.
A Norwegian newspaper quoted the head of the Norwegian military intelligence service saying the ships involved "will probably play a role in the deciding battle for Aleppo".
Crews of Nuclear-Capable Iskander-M Tactical
Missile Systems Practice Strikes in West Russia Exercise TASS
MOSCOW (October 20, 2016) -- Crews of Russia's Iskander-M tactical missile systems [capable of launching 50-kiloton nuclear warheads -- EAW] have held drills at the Luzhsky practice range in the Western Military District as part of a final check in the 2016 training year, the district's press office said on Thursday.
"During the check, the district's command assessed the commanders' ability to make independent decisions in various conditions and also the practical skills of Iskander-M crews to prepare the missile systems for firing and accomplish single and multiple electronic missile launches against targets imitating a notional enemy's command posts and radar stations located at a distance of several hundred kilometers," the district's press office said in a statement.
Missile crews have performed multi-kilometer marches to the areas of training, practiced tasks to deploy Iskander missile systems and change launch positions, load missiles from transporter and transporter-loader vehicles, the press office said.
The drills involved about 100 servicemen and more than 20 pieces of combat hardware of a missile formation of the Western Military District.
Iskander tactical ballistic missile systems are capable of hitting both small-size and large-area targets at a distance of up to 500 km to destroy missile and multiple launch rocket systems, long-range artillery guns, aircraft and helicopters at aerodromes, command posts and communications centers.
The Iskander tactical ballistic missile complex includes a launcher, a loader-transporter, a routine maintenance vehicle, a command post vehicle, an information post, an ammunition equipment set and training aids.
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