Two aircraft carriers strike groups are operating in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since 2016 as part of a message to Russia.

The U.S. 6th Fleet noted the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and the Abraham Lincoln CSG being in the Mediterranean provides “a unique opportunity for two strike groups to work together alongside key allies and partners in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.”

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) transiting the Pacific Ocean in 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Amid these operations, on April 22 U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman met with Adm. James Foggo III, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of 6th Fleet at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy to discuss the maritime environment in Europe, particularly military relations with Russia.

The Navy said discussions focused on how to achieve cooperation with Russia but also how the Navy is working with partners to deter Russian aggression.

“We seek a better relationship with Russia, but that can only happen when Russia stops its aggressive behavior and creates space for productive dialogue. We will continue to impose cost on Russia when it takes actions aimed at our partners and allies and U.S. national security interests. At the same time, we remain committed to dialogue to deescalate situations and find areas where we can work together,” Huntsman said in a statement.

Foggo underscored the U.S. military presence “is to deter and defend. It is to prevent — not provoke — a conflict.” However, the Navy highlighted Russia has sought to change borders through force in recent years, continues aggression against Georgie and Ukraine, and has undertaken a military buildup in the North Atlantic, Arctic, Black Sea, and Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Then, on April 23, Huntsman and Foggo directly observed the dual carrier strike group operations from the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). Both officials noted this deployment aims to send a message to Russia.

“Each of the carriers operating in the Mediterranean at this time represent 100,000 tons of international diplomacy. Diplomatic communication and dialogue coupled with the strong defense these ships provide demonstrate to Russia that if it truly seeks better relations with the United States, it must cease its destabilizing activities around the world,” Huntsman said in a statement.

Foggo agreed and said that “in the era of great power competition, particularly in the maritime domain, one carrier strike group provides tremendous operational flexibility and agility. Two carrier strike groups operating simultaneously, while also integrating and advancing interoperability with our highly capable NATO allies and partners, provides an unprecedented deterrent against unilateral aggression, as well as combined lethality. It also should leave no doubt to our nation’s shared commitment to security and stability in the region.”

During their deployments, the strike groups plan to work with regional allies and partners at sea, creating opportunities for high-end maritime integration while improving interoperability and proficiency.

“These combined operations will enhance combat readiness and interoperability with key allies and partners, and ensure our forces are better prepared to carry out a full range of missions, anytime, anywhere, around the world,” Franchetti said in a statement.

The USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) conducts high-speed turn drills during sea trials. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3nd Class Juan A. Cubano/Released.

“It’s a rare opportunity to train with two carrier strike groups together. Dual carrier operations here in the Mediterranean showcase the inherent flexibility and scalability maritime forces provide to the joint force, while demonstrating our ironclad commitment to the stability and security of the region,” she added.

The Navy said the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan-class frigate ESPS Méndez Núñez (F-104) is integrated into the Lincoln CSG and operates as one of Lincoln’s escorts during its around-the-world deployment. The 6th Fleet underscored this is “displaying the United States’ commitment to NATO allies, including the Spanish Navy (la Armada Española).”

“The Méndez Núñez steaming alongside USS Abraham Lincoln is a sight to behold. Our interoperability with Spain is remarkable,” Foggo added.

The two CSG operations cover over 130 aircraft, 10 ships, and 9,000 sailors and Marines.

The last two carrier deployment to the Mediterranean, in 2016, involved the Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman CSGs.

The USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) deployed from Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton last October and the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) deployed from Naval Station Norfolk on April 1. The Navy noted the carriers are in the middle of a homeport shift; eventually the Stennis will go to Norfolk and the Lincoln will go to San Diego.