Russia is preparing to carry out a new round of strikes targeting Syria from a group of warships that recently arrived in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, two U.S. defense officials told Fox News on Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear when those strikes would start, but it could be very soon, according to the officials. “They’re poised…[to begin],” one official said citing recent intelligence reports.
A defense official told Fox News Russia's actions suggest it's more interested in showing off its military power than ending Syria's civil war, which has stretched on for well over five years.
The Russian armada is centered around a Soviet-era aircraft carrier and includes three destroyers capable of launching cruise missions, according to officials.
Russian jets have routinely intercepted U.S. and NATO surveillance aircraft such as the P-8 Poseidon trying to take a look at the Russian convoy in the eastern Mediterranean. All of the interactions have been safe and professional so far, Fox News was told.
Russian jets were seen taking off with weapons visible under their wings from Russia’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, part of the flotilla located near Syria, officials said. It marked the first time Russia had conducted armed flight operations from the aircraft carrier since leaving port last month.
Previously, some U.S. officials had doubted the ability of the Russian jets to launch with full fuel loads and weapons due to the weight of the aircraft. The Russian aircraft carrier does not operate a steam catapult like their American counterparts. Instead, the jets conduct a short take off over a “ski-jump”-like ramp.
The Russian warships set sail from northern Russia in mid-October and brazenly cruised by Norway’s coast and through the English Channel before entering the Mediterranean.
A separate official said the Russians also were showing signs of using long-range bombers from southern Russia to conduct another round of strikes in Syria potentially including Aleppo, once Syria’s most populated city.
The Kremlin said Monday that Russia would maintain a ceasefire in Aleppo unless provoked by Syrian rebels fighting troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia's president Vladimir Putin congratulated Donald Trump Wednesday on his election win and pledged to restore full relations with the United States.
But in a sign of how strained ties remain between Russia and the West, the U.S. Army reports it delivered the largest shipment of ammunition to Europe in more than 20 years, all part of deterring Russian aggression, according to officials.
Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews