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 in the Mediterranean.
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 Varyag 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 Vice Admiral Kulakov is armed with an array of anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes and anti-aircraft weapons, but its main mission is hunting for enemy submarines.
"Our mission is protection of our ships in the eastern Mediterranean and to provide rescue at sea if necessary," said Capt. 1st Grade Stanislav Varik, the commander of the destroyer.
He told The Associated Press that the Vice Admiral Kulakov had successfully tracked several foreign submarines during its stint in the eastern Mediterranean. The commander offered no details.
The Russian navy has several big warships in the eastern Mediterranean, along with a number of support vessels, Varik said.
The Russian naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus has served as the key supply and support point since Soviet times. It is now the only such facility outside the former Soviet Union.