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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NATO Naval Taskforces End Their Deployment To The Black Sea

The flagship of Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two FGR Rhein, during her southbound transit through Istyanbul.

Turkish contribution to Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two, TCG Anamur making her southbound passage through Istanbul as the taskforce departs from the Black Sea. A new minehunter will replace her for the future deployment of SNMCMG-2.

On early July, flagships of Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG2) and Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group Two (SNMCMG2) HNLMS De Ruyter and FGS Rhein arrived in Bulgarian port Burgas for the Bulgarian led exercise Breeze 2018. Replenishment ship FS Marne of Marine Nationale and Greek fast attack craft HS Daniolos followed them. BREEZE 2018 from 13 to 20 July.

The exercise was designed to enhance the interoperability of the participating units and strengthen cooperation by practicing different warfare techniques in a multi-dimensional scenario. Multinational participating forces and their crews will be tested in a wide range of warfare tactics focusing on regional security.

Bulgaria as host took part with 16 combat and auxiliary ships and cutters, 2 helicopters and staff of 930 members. Two aircraft of the Bulgarian Air Force and units of the Land Forces were also involved in the exercise with most ships. Turkey was the second largest contributor to the exercise with TCG Fatih for SNMG-2 and minehunter TCG Anamur for SNMCMG-2, submarine TCG Gür, fast attack craft TCG İmbat and one patrol plane.

In total 25 combat and auxiliary ships and cutters, 1 submarine, 4 aircraft, 5 helicopters and 2,340 service members from the navies of Bulgaria, Belgium, Greece, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the USA, Turkey, France, the Netherlands took part in the exercise, which was held from 13th to 20th July.

Following the conclusion of the exercise Sea Breeze Greek fast attack craft HS Daniolos and French replenishment tanker, FS Marne exited the region while the remaining ships of both NATO Standing Maritime Groups made a port visit in Odessa between 23rd and 25th July. During this port visit, the warships were warships were open to the public. According to the Turkish Navy, TCG Fatih and TCG Anamur have hosted 2413 visitors for 6 hours when they were open to the public.

After the port visit, all NATO warships conducted a passing exercise (PASSEX) with Ukrainian naval forces. The flagship of the Ukrainian Navy Hetman Sagaidachny and warships BerdyanskVyshgorod, Kremenchuk, Lubny, and Pochaiv also took part in this PASSEX.

Upon leaving Odessa, NATO naval task forces separated. While SNMCMG-2 sailed towards Constanta Romania to conduct mine warfare exercise with Romanian Navy, SNMG-2 sailed to Samsun Turkey.

On the first day of August 2018, both HNLMS De Ruyter and FGS Rhein departed from the Black Sea ending their deployment in the region.

Ukranian Naval Exercise Sea Breeze 17 Has Started

US Navy cruiser USS Hue City and Turkish frigate F-241 TCG Turgutreis, off the coast of Ukraine. Photo: US Navy

Sea Breeze 2017 naval exercise has started in Odessa, Ukraine. This is the 17th edition of exercise which takes place in the Black Sea between 10. and 23. July 2017.

This year over 3,000 military personnel, 31 ship and 29 aircraft from the following nations is taking part: Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Unlike previous events this year’s exercise will have no previously written scenario.

The specifics of the Ukrainian-U.S. exercise Sea Breeze 2017 are an altered structure of the headquarters, which this year will make up the exercise control headquarters and a separate naval command headquarters, which is developed in compliance with NATO standards. The method used in holding the exercise will be different from that of the previous exercises as well: the international maneuvers will be held in a “free play” mode,” the press center quoted the head of the working group on planning the exercise nominated by the Ukrainian Navy, Deputy Navy Commander on Training Captain Oleksiy Neizhpapa, as having said.

Neizhpapa added that during the Sea Breeze-2017, the multinational naval command headquarters will exercise planning and control of forces under given conditions, as well as decision-making and supervising with regard to ship tactical groups and coastal and air force components. This will allow for testing the advanced naval command headquarters’ capability of managing forces and operations to meet NATO standards, he said.

Every year, we complicate the exercise program. It’s like in sport. After so many years of cooperation and practice, we are ready for a “free game”. We will work out various scenarios , – said the head of the Sea Breeze-2017 from the American side, Navy Captain Tate Westbrook, the commander of U.S. 6th Fleet’s Task Force 65 and of the U.S. forces on scene.

Under the scenario, as explained by Captain Westbrook, the fleet of surfaces ships will conduct anti submarine warfare, try to find and neutralise the enemy submarine, the role played by the Turkish submarine TCG Batıray.

Well good luck to the ships in their effort against TCG Batıray.  This exercise shows  Turkey as the only NATO nation that can deploy submarines to the Black Sea. Romania has one Kilo class submarine on its naval register but no one has seen that boat deployed and Bulgaria disband its submarine force in 2013.

Here is the list of the participants as far as I could find:

Number Name Type Nationality
S-343 TCG Batıray Submarine Turkey
NL-124 TCG Karamürselbey Landing ship Turkey
F-241 TCG Turgutreis Frigate Turkey
CG-66 USS Hue City Cruiser USA
DDG-64 USS Carney Destroyer USA
265 ROS Contraamiral Horia Macellariu Corvette Romania
111 Maresesti Frigate Romania
U-130 Hetman Sahaidachny Frigate Ukraine

Commander Of The Ukrainian Navy Visited Turkey

Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko (left) and his entourage on board of a Ada class corvette. Photo: Turkish Naval Forces.

The Commander of Ukrainian Navy, Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko visited Turkey this week.

As official guest of Turkish Naval Forces, he arrived in Ankara on 19th April. After talks focused on discussions of regional security in the Black Sea, as well as aspects of bilateral cooperation with his Turkish counterpart, Vice Admiral Vorochenko, visited Gölcük Naval Basel and Yıldızlar Training Center.

He has returned to Ukraine on 22th April.

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

Port Visits of Turkish Warships During The Weekend

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TCG Salihreis arriving in Varna, Bulgaria. Photo: Nikolay Zlatev.

The Deniz Yıldızı 2016 naval exercise continues in Black Sea. According to Turkish General Staff, 25 warships and submarine plus 11 aircraft and helicopter takes part in the exercise.

As reported earlier, over the weekend the ships conducted port visits in many cities both in country and abroad. Here is the list of the ships and the ports they have visited during the weekend:

Name Type City Country
TCG Karayel Fast attack craft Varna Bulgaria
TCG Kemalreis Frigate Varna Bulgaria
TCG Kilimli Patrol boat Varna Bulgaria
TCG Yavuz Frigate Batumi Georgia
TCG Heybeliada Corvette Constanta Romania
TCG Kılıç Fast attack craft Constanta Romania
TCG Giresun Frigate Constanta Romania
TCG Ayvalık Mine hunter Amasra Turkey
TCG Yüzbaşı İhsan Tulunay Auxiliary İnebolu Turkey
TCG İmbat Fast attack craft İnebolu Turkey
TCG Turgutreis Frigate İnebolu Turkey
TCG Karadeniz Ereğli Patrol boat Kefken Turkey
TCG Akar Auxiliary Samsun Turkey
TCG Tufan Fast attack craft Samsun Turkey
TCG Barbaros Frigate Samsun Turkey
TCG Ertuğrul Landing ship Samsun Turkey
TCG Büyükada Corvette Sinop Turkey
TCG Göksu Frigate Zonguldak Turkey
TCG Bartın Corvette Odessa Ukraine
TCG Salihreis Frigate Odessa Ukraine

Ukrainian Warships Paid a Short Visit To Istanbul

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Hetman Sahaidachny (left), TCG Salihreis (middle) Balta (right) in Istanbul.

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TCG Salihreis (left) and Hetman Sahaidachny (right) in Istanbul. Photo: Deniz Yaman.

Ukrainian warships Hetman Sahaidachny and Balta made a short port visit to Istanbul today.

Both ships passed through Istanbul Strait on 7th March 2016 and sailed to main Turkish Navy base in Gölcük, Kocaeli. There the ships have conducted joint exercises with Turkish warships.

The frigate Hetman Sahaidachny and the degaussing ship Balta arrived on the morning of 10th March 2016 accompanied by Turkish frigate TCG Salihreis to Istanbul. Balta left for Ukraine in a few hours later whereas the frigate stayed longer. The Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko who is in Turkey for an official visit, visited the frigate.

President Petro Poroshenko visited flagship of the Ukrainian Naval Forces Hetman Sahaidachny frigate that takes part in the common training with the Naval Forces of Turkey in the Sea of Marmara.
Commander of the sea campaign Dmytro Hlukhov and commander of the frigate Denys Ivanin demonstrated the equipment and mobile military hospital provided by the Turkish side.
Ukraine will receive 5 such hospitals. They will be relocated to the sectors of responsibility in the ATO area after the return of Hetman Sahaidachny frigate to Ukraine.
The President emphasized that such mobile hospitals were essentially important in the ATO area. He called them the evidence of partnership relations between the two states. “Earlier, we received them from the United States, Canada and Australia. It emphasizes strategic character of our relations,” the Head of State noted.

Later in the afternoon, Hetman Sahaidachny departed with two containers on her flight deck to Ukraine.

Sea Breeze 2015 Naval Exercise Concludes In Ukraine

TCG Bozcaada arriving ODeesa for Sea Breeze 2015 exercise.

TCG Bozcaada arriving Odessa for Sea Breeze 2015 exercise. Photo: Igor More.

The Ukrainian led exercise Sea Breeze 2015 finished today. The exercise had stared on 31 August 2015 and had a land and a sea phase.

Warships from Romania, Turkey, USA and Ukraine has participated to the sea phase of the exercise. The exercise was attended by 2,5 thousand military personnel not only from the United States and Ukraine, but also from Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Italy, the UK, Romania, Sweden, Turkey and Moldova. According to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, the purpose of the exercise is to develop of a multinational security operations in crisis region.

This is the list of the participating ships. The number of the ships was vague. Some publications cited 19 ships other 14 ships. Some even wrote that there would be submarines. But since Turkish Navy did not deployed a submarine to this exercise the anti submarine warfare training had to be done by a simulator.

Number Name Type Nationality
111 Mărăşeşti Frigate Romania
264 ROS Cam. Eustaţiu Sebastian Corvette Romania
F-500 TCG Bozcaada Corvette Turkey
U-130 Hetman Sahaidachny Frigate Ukraine
U-153 Priluki Missile boat Ukraine
U-360 Genichesk Mine sweeper Ukraine
U-401 Kirovgrad Landing ship Ukraine
BG-109 BG-109 Patrol boat Ukraine
U-120 Skadovsk Patrol boat Ukraine
U-705 Kremenets Tug Ukraine
BG-63 Pavel Derzhavin Patrol boat Ukraine
BG-50 Grigory Kuropiatnikov Patrol boat Ukraine
75 Donald Cook Destroyer USA

Multinational Maritime Security Center of Excellence Trains Ukrainian Sailors

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The group photo of the Ukrainian and Turkish participants on board of frigate Hetman Sahaidachny. Photo: Turkish Navy.

The mobile training team of the Multinational Maritime Security Center of Excellence (MARSEC COE) trained the vessel boarding and inspection team of Ukrainian frigate Hetman Sahaidachny.

The training was held between 15 and 18 June 2015, in Odessa Naval Base and on board of the frigate Hetman Sahaidachny.

The MARSEC COE is based in Aksaz Naval Base, in Marmaris Turkey, with the mission to support UN, NATO, partner countries and maritime security stakeholders by providing subject matter expertise on comprehensive approach with all levels and aspects of maritime security. Turkey provides 64 percent of the manning.

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Sea Breeze 2014 Naval Exercise Starts Next Week (UPDATED)

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F-512 TCG Büyükada heading to the Black Sea to take part in Sea Breeze 2014 exercise on 7 September 2014. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permisson.

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F-512 TCG Büyükada heading to the Black Sea to take part in Sea Breeze 2014 exercise on 7 September 2014. Photo: Yörük Işık. Used with permisson.

Despite my previous reporting and expectations the Turkish frigate TCG Oruçreis is not going to take part in the exercise Sea Breeze. Her deployment to the Black Sea must a regular one with national interests at heart.

The Milgem class corvette F-512 TCG Büyükada is going participate in the Sea Breeze according to the Turkish General Staff.

Click here to read about the previous Sea Breeze Exercises.

I have compiled the list of the ships that will take part in the exercise:

Number
Name
Country
Type
F-512
TCG Büyükada
Turkey
Corvette
F-102 ESPS Almirante Juan De Borbon  Spain Frigate
F-333 HMCS Toronto Canada Frigate
DDG-71 USS Ross USA Destroyer
P-24 Sukhumi Georgia Patrol Boat
F-221 ROS Regele Ferdinand Romania Frigate
F-796 Commandant Birot France Frigate
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