Russian warships are planning to carry out live rocket tests in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya later this month, prompting the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to warn aircraft passing through the airspace of the war-torn north African nation.
The FAA has warned that the tests could be carried out by the Russian navy at anytime between May 24-27.
Since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya’s civil war has fractured the country between various power players including military strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is believed to be Moscow’s favored party in the conflict.
Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean has typically been rotated from the country's nearby fleets, but since its intervention in Syria in 2015 Moscow has periodically reinforced its deployments with vessels such as the Admiral Kuznetsov air carrier. Russia controls a port in the Syrian port of Tartus that allows it to permanently station vessels in Mediterranean waters.
Michael Kofman, research scientist at CNA Corporation and a fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center, confirms Russia’s upcoming drill is likely, especially considering their current assembly of forces nearby.
“It appears to be something beyond a simple artillery test since the NOTAM filed indicates that they will be launching missiles,” he tells Newsweek. “The Black Sea Fleet recently received a second Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate, and both are currently on duty in the Mediterranean along with AGIs (intelligence ships), and the landing ships making regular supply runs to Syria.”
The ships largely sail in the Eastern Mediterranean near Tartus and the Syrian mainland although t some deployments stray further west and Kofman says this is “undoubtedly intentional.”
“As we know the last such episode was the Russian carrier Kuznetsov stopping off Libya and hosting Haftar, a strongman that Moscow appears to be supporting in the Libyan internal struggle,” he says.
“More than likely this is not a test, but a political demonstration of support and the prospect of Russia playing a greater role in Libya in the months to come.”
“Sporadic reports have given indications of Moscow exploring whether or not it can become a power broker in Libya,” he says.
The Russian Ministry of Defense did not respond to request for comment on the reported test.