Russian withdrawal from Syria
China’s aircraft carrier, the 60,000-ton Liaoning, the retrofitted Soviet-era Admiral Kuznetsov- class multirole aircraft carrier, conducted exercises in the South China Sea early January 2017. According to the Chinese Defence Ministry, “A naval formation consisting of aircraft carrier Liaoning conducted take-off and landing drills in the South China Sea. The formation, which is on a ‘cross-sea area’ training exercise, involved J-15 fighters as well as several ship-borne helicopters.” The Liaoning can embark an air wing of 24 Shenyang J-15 multirole fighter jets, and up to ten rotary wing aircraft including Changshe Z-18, Ka-31, and Harbin Z-9 helicopters.
Further, the drill “provided important experience in the buildup of combat capability of the aircraft carrier formation.” A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson corroborated the Liaoning’s activities stating that “the carrier and accompanying ships are testing weapons and equipment and running exercises in the relevant waters of the South China Sea.”
The Russian government is reportedly “scaling back its military presence in Syria”, starting with withdrawal of its warships from the eastern Mediterranean including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov from the waters off the coast of Syria.
Earlier in October 2016, Russia’s parliament had ratified the decision to indefinitely maintain a military deployment in Syria aimed at what it said was “peace and stability in the region”. On 23 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the expansion of Russia’s naval facility in Tartus. It is not known if this subsequent decision to scale Russian operations in Syria is permanent or is a tactical move.