Capt. 1st Rank Stanislav Varik the commander of the Russian navy destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov, gestures as he speaks to reporters on board his ship in eastern Mediterranean on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. Russian warships equipped with an array of long-range missiles cruise off Syria’s coast to back the air campaign in Syria and project Moscow’s naval power in the Mediterranean. (Vladimir Isachenkov/Associated Press)
By Vladimir Isachenkov | APJanuary 21 at 4:21 PM
ONBOARD THE VICE ADMIRAL KULAKOV — Russian warships equipped with an array of long-range missiles cruise off Syria’s coast to back the air campaign in Syria and project Moscow’s naval power worldwide.
The military demonstrated its might on Thursday by inviting a group of Moscow-based reporters on board the Vice Admiral Kulakov destroyer, which sailed alongside the flagship of the Russian naval group, the Varyag missile cruiser.
By establishing a long-term presence in the eastern Mediterranean, the Russian military has revived a Soviet-era capability to project naval power far from its borders.
The display of Russia’s military operations came before planned peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition next week in Geneva, which are meant to pave the way for a political settlement for Syria. Since Russia launched its bombing campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, its warplanes have flown more than 5,700 missions in support of Syrian government troops.
The warships, accompanied by support vessels, have rotated on duty off Syria’s shores, reviving a Soviet-era practice when Soviet warships maintained a permanent vigil in the Mediterranean.
The Varyag has sailed from its Pacific port, while the Vice Admiral Kulakov has come from the Russian base of Severomorsk on the Kola Peninsula.
The bigger cruiser carries long-range anti-ship missiles and powerful air defense systems used to help protect the Russia air base and the warplanes operating from it.
The destroyer is armed with an array of anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes and anti-aircraft weapons, but its main mission is hunting for enemy submarines.
“My ship is in eastern Mediterranean to protect and defend other ships and cargo vessels and to provide search and rescue at sea if necessary,” said Capt. 1st Grade Stanislav Varik, the commander of the destroyer.
He emphasized that his ship is optimized for engaging submarines, and added that his crew had successfully tracked several foreign submarines during its stint in the eastern Mediterranean.