The carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, was sent to the eastern Mediterranean in the fall to mount airstrikes and other missions in support of forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But the voyage became more of a show of force than an actual extension of it.
The trip was the first combat mission for the Soviet-era ship, and it apparently was used to work out some teething problems for Russian naval aviation, which has never been a primary focus of the country’s military.
The black-smoke-spewing Admiral Kuznetsov has an air wing of just 15 planes, much smaller than Western fleet carriers, which have about 60, and it experienced a number of problems on the voyage.
Two of its 15 aircraft crashed while trying to land on the carrier. In both cases, the pilots ejected and survived. The remaining planes operated for a time from the Russian air base at Latakia, on land in western Syria, rather than from the carrier.
The mission was only the eighth long-distance voyage the mechanically troubled ship has undertaken since it was commissioned in 1990. During a military exercise in the Mediterranean in 1996, its distillation equipment broke down, leaving the crew of 2,000 short of potable water; the American Navy came to its aid.
On Friday, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian general staff, ordered the Admiral Kuznetsov and several accompanying ships, including the missile cruiser Peter the Great, to return to their home port, Murmansk, in the Arctic, Russian news agencies reported. The general was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the Kremlin was “starting to downsize the grouping of armed forces in Syria” at the direction of President Vladimir V. Putin.
The drawdown order was the second since Russia’s military operation began in Syria in September 2015. The first came last spring, and was followed by some well-publicized homecomings for Russian pilots, but it resulted in little real change in the Russian military’s stance in Syria.
Mr. Putin ordered the latest drawdown after a nationwide cease-fire in Syria took effect on Dec. 30. The truce has not halted all fighting in the country, and it does not apply to actions against the Islamic State or other terrorist groups.
The carrier’s return trip to Murmansk is expected to take about 10 days, the Russian military said.