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.

Russian Warship Fires Warning Shots To A Turkish Fishing Vessel

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Smetlivy seen here heading to the Mediterranean in September.

Today the Russian destroyer Smetlivy and the Turkish fishing boat Geçiciler Balıkçılık got dangerously close. The Russian warship had to fire warning shots to the unarmed Turkish fishing vessel to turn away. The incident happened 22 kilometers east of the Greek Island Lemnos in the Norther Aegean.

Earlier today the crew of Russia’s “Smetlivy” destroyer was forced to use firearms to prevent a collision with a Turkish seiner vessel in the northern part of the Aegean Sea, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
Russian Frigate Uses Firearms to Prevent Collision With Turkish Vessel in Aegean Sea
The destoyer’s crew spotted an approaching Turkish ship at a distance of approximately one kilometer (0.6 miles). The seiner did not attempt to establish radio contact with the Russian ship and did not respond to signal lamps or flairs.
Upon the Turkish seiner’s dangerously close approach to the anchored “Smetlivy” at a distance of 600 meters (656 yards), the Russian patrol ship fired a shot beyond the hitting range of the firearms to avoid collision.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Turkish vessel immediately changed its course and, without contacting the Russian crew, kept moving by the “Smetlivy” destroyer at a distance of 540 meters (590 yards).

The above was the Russian version of the event. The Turkish version is different:

However, Muzaffer Gecici, who is the owner of the Turkish vessel Geciciler Balikcilik, has flatly denied the Russian claims saying that his boat and the Russian warship had a distance of at least 1 mile (1.6 km). 
He also stated that the Russian warship was not on the move and nobody heard any warning shots from the destroyer, adding that his vessel is technologically well-equipped and that he has already given footage from the incident to the Turkish Coast Guard. 
Meanwhile, the Russian ministry has released another statement after it summoned Turkey’s military naval attache in Moscow, Rear Admiral Ahmet Gunes, saying that the Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov had “a conversation” with Gunes.  
The statement has puzzlingly tried to link the latest incident in the Aegean with Russia’s “counter-terrorism tasks in Syria” blaming Turkey with “reckless actions” against “the Russian military contingent” in the country.
The statement has also claimed that the Turkish vessel, which is a small civilian fisher boat, was able to provoke the Russian military guard ship Smetlivy.

The Russian Navy should start to use acoustic hailing devices. These devices have a very powerful audio output capability with a vert focused narrow beam. They can make your message, be heard in large distances miles away. With the aid of these devices a warship can hail and warn any other vessel in her vicinity that does not respond to radio contact, to signal lamps or flairs before starting to shot.

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.

Russian Submarine Novorossiysk Passed Through Bosphorus

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Novorossiysk passing by the Hagia Sophia as she enteres the Bosphorus.

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Novorossiysk on Istanbul Strait.

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A close-up to her sail.

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A bow view of Novorossiysk. On her left is the TCSG-10 from Turkish Coast Guard. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

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A bow view of Novorossiysk. TCG Tekirdağ can be clearly seen following the submarine. Photo: Kerim Bozkurt. Used with permission.

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The salvage and mooring ship Sayany seen during her northbound passage.

The Kilo class submarine Novorossiysk and her escort the salvage ship Sayany passed through Istanbul yesterday.

Novorossiysk is a newly build submarine and is the first of the 6 submarines Russia wants to deploy to the Black Sea Fleet. Currently only one Kilo class submarine Alrosa is operational in the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Although her design is dated Novorossiysk was laid down in 2010 and launched in 2013. She was commissioned in Russian Navy in August 2014.

Alrosa returned to the Black Sea on 19 September 2011 after a lengthy overhaul. She was damaged by a fire in her engine department.

Novorossiysk had a considerable entourage when she passed through the Bosphorus. TCSG-10, a small Turkish Coast Guard vessel provided her close security while Tuzla class ASW patrol boat TCG Tekirdağ, trailed her. The last ship of the entourage was the Russian salvage and mooring ship Sayany. She belongs to the Russian Pacific Fleet but escorted Novorossiysk on her maiden deployment from Malta.

Another Southbound Passage Of Nikolay Filchenkov

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The cargo on deck of Nikolay Filchenkov. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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The cargo on deck of Nikolay Filchenkov. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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The cargo on deck of Nikolay Filchenkov. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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Nikolay Filchenkov made her second southbound passage in 20 days. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

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Nikolay Filchenkov making her southbound passage. Note that she is heavier at aft. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

On 10 September 2015 the Russian Alligator class large landing ship Nikolay Filchenkov made another south bound passage through Turkish Straits. This is her second passage to the Mediterranean in 20 days. This was a faster turn around than usual.

Like her last passage she had cargo on her deck again. Apart from one 6 meter green shipping container and one small utility boat all cargo on deck was hidden under camouflage nets. It is difficult to guess the hidden cargo on deck but it does not look like a land vehicle (to me at least).

Between 20 August 2015 and 10 September 2015, 4 Ropucha class large landing ships and 1 Alligator class landing ship made their south bound passages through Turkish Straits in addition to The Nikolay Filchenkov’s two passages.

The Cargo On Russian Landing Ship Saratov

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Alligator class landing ship Saratov passing through Istanbul, escorted by Turkish Coast Guard. Photo: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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A composite image of the cargo on board of Saratov. Photos: Alper Böler. Used with permission.

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A starboard view of Saratov. Photo: Zeynep Bozkurt. Used with permission.

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The cargo on the starboard side. Photo: Zeynep Bozkurt. Used with permission.

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Another view of the cargo on board of Saratov. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

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Note the crates under the life rafts. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

The Russian presence in Syria is growing so is the frequency of Russian warships carrying equipment and supplies to the region has increased too.

On 7 September 2015, the Alligator class landing ship Saratov sister of Nikolay Filchenkov made her southbound passage to the Mediterranean.

Like the much discussed passage of Nikolay Filchenkov, the deck of Saratov was loaded with equipment. Since vehicles were under camouflage nets, it is not easy to tell what the ship was exactly carrying. But the profile of the cargo on her bow resembles very much KamAZ-4350 trucks. There are at least 2 on the starboard side and one at the port side.

The remaining vehicles seem to have a lower profile than the trucks. Some of the have two “horns” like the air intakes you can see on BTR-82A armored personal carriers. Thus I believe that Saratov was carrying at least 5 APC’s of this type yesterday.

Since I am not an expert on army vehicles any additions, updates or corrections are welcomed.

Russian Warship Korolev Passed Through Istanbul With Cargo On Her Deck

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Ropucha class large landing ship Korolev making her southbound passage through the Istanbul with extra cargo on her forecastle.

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The cargo on the forecastle of Korolev.

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The cargo on the forecastle from a slightly different angle.

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The cargo on Korolev from the opposite side of the Strait. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission.

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The cargo on deck, seen from the other side of Bosphorus. Photo: Kerim Bozkurt. Used with permission.

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The cargo on Korolev from the opposite side of the Strait. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permission

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Ropucha class landing ship Novocharkassk passing through Istanbul. All her cargo is inside.

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The position of the cargo on the deck. The original drawing: Coollib.

 

On 3 September 2015 two Ropucha class large landing ship of Russian Navy made their southbound passage through Bosphorus.

Their passage would not be remarkable if one of the ships had cargo stored on her forecastle. The landing ship Korolev is assigned to the Baltic Fleet. But since July the ship is going back and forth between the Black Sea and Mediterranean.

The Ropucha class ships have a through tank deck which means a tank can roll on front the end of the ship and roll off at from the aft of the ship. Many Ropucha class warships passed through the Turkish Straits but their cargo was always inside the ship.

The cargo stored on the forecastle of Korolev was a first. The cargo was stored between the gun and the rocket launchers. It was covered by camouflage nets. The cargo seems to be large crates probably from wood and it does not appear to be a kind of vehicle like the trucks and the armored personal carriers on Nikolay Filchenkov. 

The destination of these ships are not declared but it is believed to be Syria. The Russian support to Syria has intensified since last and much discussed deployment of  Nikolay Filchenkov on 20 August 2015. Since that day, 4 Ropucha class landing ships have been dispatched to the region: Azov and Tsezar Kunikov on 26 August followed by Korolev and Novocharkassk on 3 September.

UPDATE: The Cargo On Russian Landing Ship Nikolay Filchenkov

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Russian Alligator class landing ship Nikolay Filchenkov making a south bound passage through Istanbul. Her destination is not known to us. Photo: Shonquis Moreno. Used with permission.

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The cargo on deck. Photo: Shonquis Moreno. Used with permission.

On 20 August 2015 the Alligator class landing ship Nikolay Filchenkov made one of her passages through Istanbul. The event was not worth of remembering if there was no cargo on deck of the ship.

During their previous passages Russian landing ships never had cargo on their top deck. Thus it is worth to look closer what Nikolay Filchenkov was carrying since we have new photos from Ms. Eser Çelebiler’s blog:

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This is the approximate locations of the cargo on deck.

The help of the new photos we can say that there are 4 KamAZ-4350 6×6 and one GAZ-66 trucks plus 4 BTR type armored personnel carriers.  The other items hidden under the tarpaulin arouse the suspension most.

Any additional information or suggestions are welcomed.

Thanks to Yörük Işık and Arda Mevlütoğlu for helping me identifying the trucks and correcting my mistake in identifying the ship.

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