The Kerch Incident

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels on 25th November 2018 Sunday and escalated the feud between two countries to the next level.

The Ukrainian trio – Gurza-M class gunboats P-175 Berdyansk, P-176 Nikopol and the tug A-947 Yana Kapu – set sail from Odessa and was destined to Berdyansk by the Azov Sea.

The Azov Sea is a large and shallow part of the Black Sea shared by Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Access from the Black Sea is through the Kerch Strait.

In 2003 the –then friendly – Russian Federation and Ukraine signed a treaty cooperation in the use of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait. According to this treaty merchant ships and warships, as well as other state ships flying the flag of the Russian Federation or Ukraine, operated for non-commercial purposes, enjoy the freedom of navigation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

Before the occupation of Crimea, the Kerch Strait was separating Ukraine from Russia. Now both side of the strait is controlled by the Russian Federation. And this control enables Russia to decide who can pass through the Strait and who cannot. In the last couple of months, the Russian Federation has started to delay merchant ships in the Azov Sea, by detaining and inspecting them if their destination is a Ukrainian port. These legal but abusive inspections delay the ships at least 2 or 3 days.  European Parliament stated that Russia detained at least 120 vessels that flown the EU flag since April and not allowed them to proceed to Ukrainian ports. These arbitrary and unnecessary long inspections hurt the Ukrainian economy very much.

In the recent months, Russia has moved naval units from its Caspian and the Black Sea Fleets to the Azov Sea. As a counter move, Ukraine decided to reinforce its naval assets in the region. In early September Ukraine deployed two Gurza-M class gunboats. But instead sailing through the Kerch Strait they were moved on a truck by road. Thus Russia was not in a position to prevent this movement. Furthermore, Ukraine sends on 24th September the Amur class warships, A-500 Donbas and the tug A-830 Korets again through the Kerch Strait. During that deployment, the tug was towing the other ship.

However this time Ukraine decided to send the gunboats by sea instead of by land. This was not a decision out of nautical necessities.

The Russians tried to stop the Ukrainian ships. A video made from the bridge of Russian Sorum class Coast Guard vessel Don shows how the ship shouldered the Ukrainian tug Yana Kapu. The video does not show however how Don collided with the other Russian Coast Guard vessel Izumrud and created a hole on her superstructure.

Izumrud later opened fire with her AK-630 multi-barreled 30mm gun to the gunboat Berdyansk. The photos circulation on social media clearly shows the bullet hole on this boat. Later Russian special forces boarded the vessels and seized them.

In the aftermath of the incident, Russians flew the Ukrainians to Moscow. But before that, some of the Ukrainian sailors had to appear in front of the TV cameras to be forced to read some kind of made up confessions.

Ukraine pleaded help from the West and asked NATO to send warships to the Sea of Azov. People with enough geographical knowledge quickly realized that Azov Sea was too shallow to accommodate any NATO warship big enough to make a statement and armed enough to protect herself properly. Such a warship would not be able to pass under the Kerch Bridge that has only 33 meters clearance.

Ukraine also demanded Turkey to close Turkish Straits to Russian warships. Ihor Voronchenko, Commander of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, at the II International Conference on Maritime Security in Kiev, said that Ukraine intends to appeal to the international community to strengthen sanctions against Russia in connection with its aggressive actions in the Sea of Azov and to close the Bosporus Strait for vessels of the Russian Federation according to the 19th paragraph of the Convention of Montreux.

According to Article 19 of Montreux Convention, in time of war, Turkey not being belligerent, warships shall enjoy complete freedom of transit and navigation through the Straits under the same conditions as those laid down in Article 10 to 18. Vessels of war belonging to belligerent Powers shall not, however, pass through the Straits except in cases arising out of the application of Article 25 of the present Convention, and in cases of assistance rendered to a State victim of aggression in virtue of a treaty of mutual assistance binding-Turkey, concluded within the framework of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and registered and published in accordance with the provisions of Article 18 of the Covenant…

The obvious problem here is, that there is no openly declared war between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.  And neither of these two nations is going to change the status quo, by declaring one. Turkey will not close the Straits and will keep them open for any nation. Turkey also will try to lessen the tensions in the Black Sea through indirect mediation.

By sending the gunboats and the tug, Ukraine challenged the Russian position, that the Kerch Strait was a Russian inner waterway, and showed that it hasn’t recognized, the unilateral Russian change to the 2003 agreement. Ukraine has also managed to bring the problems it faces in the Azov Sea to the worldwide public attention. But has lost a third of her Gurza-M class gunboats which are much needed to strengthen the Ukrainian Navy

On the other hand, Russia revealed that it prefers to confront Ukrainian armed forces without proxies rather than putting its assumed ownership on the Kerch Strait and demonstrated that it was ready physically block the Strait at all costs.

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Vietnamese Warship Sighted


The Dutch-flagged heavy load carrier M/V Rolldock Star made a short stop in Istanbul on 16 September 2017. She has departed from Novorossiysk, Russia and is on her way to Vietnam. Her cargo is the first ship of the second batch of Gepard class frigates Vietnam has ordered.

In 2012 Vietnam has ordered a pair of additional Gepard 3.9 class frigates from Gorky Shipyard in Zelenodolsk. The second batch is different as they are optimized for ASW role and have 533mm torpedo tubes, the first two pair lack.

Gepard 3.9 is the export class of the 11661E class patrol ship. She is 102 m long, 2,200 tons displacement, 103 crew members, a maximum speed of 23 knots, 9200 km operating range.

The warship is not named yet and has the temporary pennant number of 486.

Turkish Navy Conducting Simultaneous Port Visits In 5 Countries

TCG Oruçreis arrives in Varna. Photo: Nikolay Zlatev.

10 Turkish warships are conducting port visits in 5 different ports, in 5 different countries.

The long needed rest came after the end of the first phase of naval exercise Deniz Yıldızı 2017. The exercise has started on 27 March and will end on 7 April.

Of course the small size of the Black Sea helps. But Turkey is the only Black Sea nation that can perform such a diplomatic show of force. It is not a small event to do port visits in 5 different nations at the same time.

This is the list of the ships doing port visits. Most of them  will be open for public to visit.

Name Type Port Country
TCG Oruçreis Frigate Varna Bulgaria
TCG Tuzla Patrol Boat Varna Bulgaria
TCG Kalkan Fast Attack Craft Batumi Georgia
TCG Yıldırım Frigate Batumi Georgia
TCG Turgutreis Frigate Constanta Romania
TCG Yıldız Fast Attack Craft Constanta Romania
TCG Büyükada Corvette Novorossiysk Russia
TCG Barbaros Frigate Novorossiysk Russia
TCG Heybeliada Corvette Odessa Ukraine
TCG Gaziantep Frigate Odessa Ukraine

Syrian Express Deployments Taking Toll On Russian Ships?

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Russian landing ship Azov, last seen on 19th February 2016 making a northbound passage. Photo: Yörük Işık.

Turkish maritime news portal Deniz Haber Ajansı ran a story about the Russian naval exercise scheduled in the Black Sea. According to the news Russian Navy has to cancel at least the amphibious landing part of the exercise due to the fact that Ropucha class landing ships Azov and Yamal were unavailable due to malfunctions. The Turkish portal quotes Ukrainian as their source and I was not able to verify content of the story through other means. But there is no smoke without fire.

Yamal made 3 Syrian deployments in this year and she was last seen on 22th February 2016 sailing north. Whereas Azov made only 2 Syrian deployments in 2016 and she was last seen sailing north on 19th February 2016. So both of them were absent for the last 68 days. This is a long pause suggesting that there actually might be some problems with these ships.

The arduous Syrian Express deployments seems to be taking toll on the auxiliary cargo ships of the Russian Navy as well. According to 7 Feet Beneath the Keel blog half of them are in non-operational status:

“Dvinitsa-50” — operational
“Kazan-60” — non-operational; to undergo repairs – possibly until this fall – following a machinery room fire in late March
“Kyzyl-60” — non-operational
“Vologda-50” — operational
“Aleksandr Tkachenko” — non-operational; after conducting roundtrip missions in February and March, vessel pulled into Feodosiya in mid-March where it probably remains today
“Yauza” — returning to Murmansk

 

Russian Submarine Rostav-na-Donu Passed Through Bosphorus

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Rostav-na-Donu passing by Topkapı Palace.

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Rostav-na-Donu passing through Istanbul.

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The submarine was escorted by Turkish Coast Guard boat TCSG-90.

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A close up view of Rostav-na-Donu.

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Rostav-na-Donu, was trailed by Turkish Tuzla class ASW patrol boat TCG Tuzla during her passage through Bosphorus.

Last Sunday, on 13 December 2015, the improved Kilo submarine of the Black Sea Fleet, Rostav-na-Donu made her inaugural passage through Istanbul Strait.

She is the second of a four boat of the six Varshavyanka submarines being build for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. The first of these submarines, Novorossiysk has already been commissioned.

Rostav-na-Donu made headlines before her arrival. 4 days prior her passage she has fired undisclosed amount 3M-14 submarine launched cruise missiles to targets in Syria.  With the arrival of this boat, Russian Black Sea Fleet operates three submarines: the Kilo class Alrosa and the impreoved Kilo (Varshavyanka) class Novorossiysk and  Rostav-na-Donu.

During her passage thourg IStanbul Strait, the submarine was escorted by Turkish Coast Guard vessel TCSG-90 and trailed by anti submarine warfare patrol boat TCG Tuzla.

Recent Russian Deployments From The Black Sea

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The Baltic Fleet warship Minsk is back. She was last seen on 17.04.2014 going south.

The tensions between Turkey and Russia are still in an aggravated level after the shooting down of a Russian Su-24M fighter-bomber by a Turkish F-16C.

As reported earlier, most of the tension remains on politic and economic front. Both sides are trying to keep their military reactions to a minimum.

According to Montreux Convention any Black Sea nation must inform Turkey 8 days before the passage of its warship. 14 days has passed since the shooting of the Russian fighter plane. If Russia wanted to reinforce its fleet off the coast of Syria with warships from the Black Sea Fleet these ship would have been passing through the Turkish Straits in last 5 days.

We have seen the southbound passage of 3 military landing ships (Korolev, Saratov, Tsezar Kunikov) and northbound passage of 4 military landing ships and 2 auxiliary cargo ships (Tsezar Kunikov, Yamal, Minsk, Korolev, Yauza, Dvinitsa-50) in last 15 days.

One of the most documented and discussed passage was the one of Tsezar Kunikov. During the southbound passage of this ship on 4th December 2015, a single sailor carrying what appears to be a 9K38 Igla (SA-18 “Grouse”) was photographed. The commanding officer of a warship has the duty to take all necessary precautions to protect his ship and his crew. But the show with the single Sa-18 was neither funny nor logical. If the missile was against Turkish Air Force it was definitely not enough, if the missile was against Daesh Air Force it was too much since they do not have any planes yet. So it was just a gesture to annoy

What we have not seen are the southbound passages of the destroyer or frigates from the Black Sea Fleet. This means either Russia is more interested in keeping their troops supplied in Syria or the conditions of Black Sea Fleet warships are not suitable for such deployment.

What Will Happen On Maritime Front After The Shooting Of The Russian Fighter?

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Russian warship Korolev passing through Bosphorus on 28th November 2015

On 24 November 2015, one Turkish F-16 fighter, shoot down a Russian Su-24M fighter-bomber violating Turkish airspace.

The events happening after this incident are beyond the scope of this blog. I am going to try to explain this recent Turco-Russian crisis from a maritime point of view.

So what is going to happen on maritime front after the shooting down of the Russian fighter? The short answer is: Nothing.

The first reaction on Russian side, in maritime domain was to withdraw the naval officer working as a liaison between Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and Turkish Navy and suspend participation in the Black Sea Force (BLACKSEAFOR).

In accordance with the decision by the Russian Defense Ministry on terminating military contacts with Turkey, the participation of our Black Sea Fleet in the BLACKSEAFOR drills has been suspended,” said Komoyedov who was previously commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
“Also, a representative of the Russian Navy in charge of coordination between the Black Sea Fleet and the Turkish Navy has been recalled from Turkey,” Komoyedov said. “He has returned home,” he added.

The withdraw from BLACKSEAFOR is purely for the Russian public consumption. The BLACKSEAFOR was created by Turkey as a call of naval task force very similar to NATO’s Standing Maritime Groups. The Purpose of the BLACKSEAFOR was to develop the interoperability between the Black Sea nations and the create a mutual trust and cooperation between the navies. But the BLACKSEAFOR was stabbed in the back by Russia with the Georgian – Russian war in 2008. That conflict destroyed much of the work done by then. The annexation of Crimea by Russia was the final nail in the coffin. Since that event BLACKSEAFOR was in coma and the yearly activations of the task force were cancelled.therefore Russian decision of leaving BLACKSEAFOR has no value.

Another reaction was the deployment of the Slava class cruiser Mosvka off the coast of Syrian town Latakia.

“Cruiser” Moskva “, armed with air defense system” Fort “, on Wednesday morning took the position area in the region of Latakia. His means of radar and missile system will be able to provide cover videoconferencing Russian air group in Syria, “- a spokesman said.

On the eve of the chief of the Main Operations Directorate of the General Staff, Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy told reporters that the cruiser “Moskva”, equipped with air defense system “Fort”, takes the area near Latakia to strengthen defense. The exact date when not given.

Besides Mosvka, the following Russian ships are in the region:

  • Kashin class destroyer Smetliviy
  • Nanuchka III class corvette Mirazh
  • Vishnya class intelligence-gathering ship Vasiliy Tatischev
  • Tanker Ivan Bubnov
  • Tug MB-31
  • Amur class repair ship PM-56
  •  Oceanographic research ship Admiral Vladimirsky

And the following Russian ships are on the way to the region:

  • Ropucha class large landing ships Korolev and Tsezar Kunikov
  • Auxiliary cargo ship Vologda-50

Mosvka has passed through Turkish Straits on 25 September 2015 and she remained in the Eastern Mediterranean since that day.  Moskva has 8 vertical launcher for SA-N-6 ‘Grumble’ surface to air missiles with 8 rounds for each launcher. The SA-N-6 ‘Grumble’ also known as S-300F (Fort) is a navalised version of the S-300 surface to air missile system.  The ship based missile is the 5V55RM which has a minimum range of 5 kilometers and a maximum range on 75 kilometers.

The deployment of the cruiser, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, off the coast of Latakia will increase the protection for air base used by Russia and is more or less for the Russian public consumption.   I am quite sure that the captain of Moskva is not happy to act as a picket fence. As a picket fence the cruiser will be the first line of defence and there are not enough Russian warships to escort this capital ship should the crisis escalate.

In the unlikely event of escalation of the crisis between Turkey and Russia the cruiser Mosvka is alone and very vulnerable to the most potent Turkish weapon to be used: submarines.

According to the website of Turkish General Staff two submarines are conducting patrols in Eastern Mediterranean. TCG Dolunay is in the region since 11th November 2015 and TCG Burakreis since 7th November 2015.

Both sides have many warships in the Eastern Mediterranean in close vicinity and the tensions are high at the moment. But never the less I think any military escalation is very unlikely as this could potentially led to a large confrontation and in such event Turkey may evoke its right to close the Turkish Straits according to the article 20 of Montreux Convention.

Article 20. In time of war, Turkey being belligerent, the provisions of Articles 10 to 18 shall not be applicable; the passage of warships shall be left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish Government.

The Montreux Convention dictates a 8 day notification period for the Black Sea Powers. This means if any Black Sea nation wants to move their ships through Turkish Straits, they have to notify Turkey 8 days prior this crossing. Therefore if Russian Navy has decided on 24th November  after the shooting down of Su-24M, to send more warships to Syria, 2nd December 2015 is the earliest day these ships can pass through Turkish Straits.

Russia must have an unlimited access to Turkish Straits. The so called Syrian Express deployments of Russian Ropucha and Alligator class landing ships and auxiliaries are vitally important to keep Russian troops inside Syria supplied. If Russia cannot send its ships through Turkish Straits for any reason, the Russian soldiers deployed in Syria may find themselves in a very similar position of General Paulus’ Army. This is an important reason, why the Russian counter aggression to the shooting of its plane is (and will remain) asymmetrical. This is why Russians are trying to hurt Turkey with diplomatic and economical responses rather than military actions.

The Cargo On Alexandr Tkachenko

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The cargo on Alexandr Tkachenko seen from port side. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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The cargo on Alexandr Tkachenko seen from port side. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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The cargo on Alexandr Tkachenko seen from port side. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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The cargo on Alexandr Tkachenko seen from port side. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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The cargo on Alexandr Tkachenko seen from port side. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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The cargo on Alexandr Tkachenko seen from starboard side. Photos: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

The Russian flagged RORO ship Alexandr Tkachenko, is one of the civilian ship that is used by Russian military to supply the operations in Syria. She made her latest southbound passage through Istanbul Strait on 31 October 2015.

Her latest cargo has at least 20 ISO containers of which 3 are 40 feet and the rest are 20 feet. 4 trucks and 10 trailers are also visible on the deck.

PLAN Frigates In Black Sea

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Close up photos of the PLAN frigates. All photos by Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

After I have posted about the passage of PLAN frigates 550 Weifang and 547 Linyi more information and photos have emerged.

Mr. Mommsen from Marine Forum Magazine share the following information:

belong to 19th Chinese Navy anti-piracy task group which in the Gulf of Aden obviously has been relieved by arrived 20th Group … expect them to head for Sevastopol to participate in Russian “Victory Day” celebrations/naval parade on 09 May … afterwards return to Mediterranean … they are the ships earmarked (together with replenishment ship WEISHAN HU?) for announced exercise with Russian Navy (permanent MedSqn) … Chinese anti-piracy task groups upon completion of their missions in the Gulf of Aden routinely conduct visits to foreign countries (Europe, around Africa) before heading home.

The always informative Black Sea News states that at least one of the frigates is heading to Novorossiysk.

However, according to sources BSNews , frigates (or, at least, one of them) are sent to Novorossiysk to participate in activities in connection with the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany.

So in a few days time we will definitely have more information about this deployment.

Russian Warship Movements Through Turkish Straits (Part 48)

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Tall ship Kruzenshtern on her way to Varna.

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Russian warship 142 Novocharkassk making a northbound passage through Bosphorus. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

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Russian warship 016 Georgiy Pobedonosets making a northbound passage through Bosphorus. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

 

The list of Russian warship movements in 2014:

Date Number Name Direction
02/01/14 016 Georgiy Pobedonosets Northbound
02/01/14 156 Yamal Northbound
18/01/14 016 Georgiy Pobedonosets Southbound
18/01/14 151 Azov Southbound
27/01/14 102 Kaliningrad Southbound
01/02/14 016 Georgiy Pobedonosets Northbound
01/02/14 151 Azov Northbound
07/02/14 810 Smetlivy Northbound
10/02/14 016 Georgiy Pobedonosets Southbound
10/02/14 151 Azov Southbound
20/02/14 150 Saratov Southbound
20/02/14 156 Yamal Southbound
26/02/14 102 Kaliningrad Northbound
26/02/14 127 Minsk Northbound
04/03/14 150 Saratov Northbound
04/03/14 156 Yamal Northbound
23/03/14 012 Olenegorskiy Gorniak Southbound
23/03/14 102 Kaliningrad Southbound
23/03/14 127 Minsk Southbound
03/04/14 012 Olenegorskiy Gorniak Northbound
03/04/14 102 Kaliningrad Southbound
10/04/14 150 Saratov Southbound
10/04/14 156 Yamal Southbound
11/04/14 138 PM-138 Southbound
12/04/14 MB-304 MB-304 Southbound
17/04/14 016 Georgiy Pobedonosets Southbound
17/04/14 127 Minsk Southbound
17/04/14 142 Novocharkassk Southbound
29/04/14 016 Georgiy Pobedonosets Northbound
29/04/14 142 Novocharkassk Northbound
29/04/14 Kruzenshtern Northbound

I have archived the list of the Russian ship movements in 2013.

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