Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Moscow Presses in the Mediterranean

By Charles Frattini III and Genevieve Casagrande

Key Takeaway: Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to leverage uncontested basing in the Eastern Mediterranean to demonstrate Russian naval capabilities, while asserting its freedom of action on NATO’s southern flank. Russia focused on showcasing the increased cruise missile capability of its Black Sea Fleet’s permanent Mediterranean Task Force (MTF) from August – October 2017. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on August 25 that both sea and airborne cruise missiles were successfully utilized during a coordinated attack on ISIS positions for the first time since Russia’s entry into the Syrian Civil War in September 2015.[1] Russia deployed two previously non-combat tested submarines to its Tartous naval base along the Syrian coast on August 28, signaling Russia’s continued prioritization of combat experience for the MTF.[2] The two submarines later executed their first combat operation with Kalibr cruise missiles against ISIS in Eastern Syria on September 14.[3] September marked the highest frequency of Russian Kalbir cruise missiles strikes in a single month in 2017. The Kremlin meanwhile demonstrated its continued desire to challenge U.S. and NATO forces in the Mediterranean through the deployment of additional naval vessels and a second S-400 long-range air defense system to Syria.[4] Russia briefly deployed the Admiral Grigorovich to the Syrian theater under the guise of participation in a bilateral cultural festival between Russia and Greece from September 27 – October 1.[5] The Admiral Grigorovich cut its deployment short and rotated back to Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea (Ukraine) on October 4, likely due to mechanical error.[6] The Grigorovich has routinely rotated between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean since June 2016.[7] Moscow’s expanding footprint in Tartous underscores the Kremlin’s intent to use its positions on the Syrian coast to establish Russia as a permanent regional power and challenge the Unites States and NATO in the longterm.[8]

[1]Russian Forces Try Out Air, Sea-based Missiles on Syrian Battlefield for First Time”, TASS Russian News Agency, August 25, 2017, http://tass(.)com/defense/962021
[2] “Newest Kolpino and Velikiy Novgorod Submarines of the Black Sea Fleet Reached the Mediterranean Sea”, Russian Ministry of Defense, August 28, 2017,
[3] “Two Russian Subs Attack Islamic State in Syria with Kalibr Cruise Missiles”, TASS Russian News Agency, September 14, 2017, http://tass(.)com/defense/965616 ; “Veliky Novgorod and Kolpino Submarines Fired the Kalibr Cruise Missiles from Submerged Position Against ISIS Critical Objects in Syria”, Russian Ministry of Defense, September 14, 2017,
[4] Jeremy Binny and Sean O’Connor, “Second Russian S-400 in Syria Confirmed”, HIS Jane’s Defence Weekly, September 29, 2017,
[5] “Russia’s Admiral Grigorovich Frigate Sails to Mediterranean Sea”, TASS Russian News Agency, September 25, 2017, http://tass(.)com/defense/967331 ; [“Frigate ‘Admiral Grigorovich’ Left the Greek Port of Kerkyra”], RIA Novosti, October 1, 2017, https://ria(.)ru/defense_safety/20171001/1505950486.html
[6] [“Russian Frigate Admiral Grigorovich has Returned from a Campaign in the Mediterranean”], Interfax.RU, October 4, 2017, http://www.interfax(.)ru/russia/581685
[7] [“The Newest Frigate of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Grigorovic, Arrived in Sevastopol”], Russian Ministry of Defense, June 10, 2016, ; [“Frigate of the Black Sea Fleet Admiral Grigorovich Arrives on the Greek Island of Corfu”], Russian Ministry of Defense, September 28, 2016, ;  [“Frigate ‘Admiral Grigorovich’ Black Sea Fleet Will Leave Greece After Participating in the ‘Russian Week on the Ionian Islands’”], Russian Ministry of Defense, October 3, 2016, ; [“The Newest Frigate of the Black Sea Fleet Admiral Grigorovich returned to Sevastopol from the Mediterranean Sea”], Russian Ministry of Defense, December 19, 2016, ; [“Frigate of the Black Sea Fleet ‘Admiral Grigorovich’ left Sevastopol in the Mediterranean Sea”], Russian Ministry of Defense, February 27, 2017, ; “Russian Frigate Heads to Mediterranean on Syria Mission – Source”, Reuters, February 27, 2017, ; “Russian Missile Frigate Returns to Mediterranean”, RT, April 8, 2017, https://www.rt(.)com/news/384022-russian-missile-frigate-mediterranean-syria/ ; [“Frigate of the Black Sea Fleet Admiral Grigorovich Arrived in Sevastopol from the Mediterranean Sea”], Russian Ministry of Defense, July 12, 2017,
[8] Charles Frattini III and Genevieve Casagrande, “Russia’s Mediterranean Threat to NATO, Institute for the Study of War, July 13, 2017,