It was a Russian sailor who betrayed his squadron's position. Taking a selfie last Saturday, 5 November, observers quickly determined that he was aboard the RFS Pyotr Velikiy (Peter the Great) and that its position was east of Crete.
One military journalist calls the Pyotr Velikiy "the world's most powerful battle cruiser." But it is not alone in the pristine waters of the Mediterranean. The Pyotr Velikiy is just one of a 12-ship battlegroup that also includes Russia's flagship carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, two destroyers, a frigate, one nuclear submarine and two state-of-the-art diesel subs. Two tankers and an equal number of tugboats accompany the floating entourage.
According to Russia's Northern Fleet press release, the envoy has been sent to "hold drills and strengthen capabilities." In fact, tomorrow, 9 November, the armada begins a "major aeronautics exercise" in the eastern Mediterranean. Regardless, it is all but self-evident that Moscow has other goals in mind.
RFS Pyotr Velikiy, the world's most powerful battle cruiser, is currently located east of Crete. Position betrayed by a sailor's selfie pic.twitter.com/uzpAjF30oW— Hans de Vreij (@hdevreij) November 5, 2016
Earlier today, the Moscow-based Tass News Agency published a report that featured a military analysis of Syria by a "Lebanese military expert and analyst, Amin Hoteit." Hoteit is also former brigadier general. The article's opening line is that "the Syrian armed forces will most likely round up the operation to liberate Aleppo from militants before the inauguration of the next US president."
Those armed forces are, of course, backed by the full weight and military power of Russia. Extrapolating, then, one reason for an exponential increase of Russian military might in the eastern Mediterranean?
That likely reason is to dramatically increase the military efforts to defeat Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) in order to secure the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad before the next US president is sworn into office on 20 January 2017, less than ten weeks from today.
The US, part of the NATO group of nations, is leading the fight to defeat Islamic State in Iraq, currently in Mosul. Its policy in Syria, however, is to defeat the terror group by supporting rebel groups that seek to overthrow Assad, groups that Moscow calls illegal militants.
Apparently, Moscow has decided that the US is unlikely to start a war at the end of a presidential term, something much more likely a new president might do in order to bolster his/her leadership credentials.
FOOTAGE FROM THE RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY, FEATURING THE MILITARY MIGHT OF ITS NAVAL ENVOY NEAR THE SHORES OF SYRIA - AND EUROPE
But there is another likely purpose for Russia's show of force. From its perspective, Syria is not its first concern vis-a-vis the US and NATO. Moscow's first concern is a dramatic increase in US/NATO troops and armaments in eastern European countries, especially those countries that border Mother Russia.
Claiming it is being threatened, Russia is letting it be known that it is ready and willing to fight as a resurrected superpower. While it does not have military numbers that come close to those of the US-NATO alliance, its military hardware, economic growth and national willpower reflects a spirit that, unlike the West, does not flinch in the face of warfare, including the blood of its innocent victims.
For its part, Jerusalem faces a significant challenge in these developments. The US is its strongest ally. But Russia too is a an ally - of sorts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made several visits to Moscow since Russia moved into Syria just over one year ago. From all appearances, those visits, unlike recent encounters with US President Barack Obama, were friendly, even warm. Israel's immediate purpose with Russia has been to maintain the right to strike arms shipments to Iranian-backed troops operating in Syria on and near its border with Israel. So far, Moscow and `Jerusalem have worked out a system whereby, in effect, Russia gives permission to Israeli missions in Syrian airspace.
On the other hand, of course, Israel depends on the US for funding to acquire military hardware necessary for its self-defense. As things heat up between the two superpowers, Israel's challenge is to remain on good terms with both without alienating either.
The global ride, at least in the northwest hemisphere, is about to get bumpy. Buckle up.