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.