Russian warships locked out of key strategic waterway

Russian Admiral Makarov ship test fires missiles in 2017

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Turkey’s decision to close the Black Sea’s only access point from the Mediterranean is putting massive strain on the Russian navy, with some ships having to travel to the Pacific for vital maintenance. Iain Ballantyne, an expert on naval warfare, also said recent drone attacks by Ukrainian forces had robbed Russia of the ability to operate in the west of the waterway, seriously hampering Putin more than eight months after declaring war on his neighbour.

Turkey, led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, controls access to the Black Sea via the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits – and confirmed it was closing off the narrow passage to warships on February 28, four days after Putin announced his full-scale invasion.

Mr Ballantyne is the editor of International Warships Fleet Review as well as an historical author who has recently published his latest book, HMS London.

He told Express.co.uk: “This has forced Russia to send warships needing maintenance after long months in a face off with NATO in the Mediterranean home to either the Pacific, the Baltic or the Arctic rather than to Black Sea naval shipyards.”

As well as providing Russia’s President other a major headache, the move has also underlined Turkey’s increasing influence, especially in the Mediterranean region, Mr Ballantyne pointed out.

He explained: “The predominant NATO naval power in the Black Sea is Turkey with a very capable, balanced fleet, including frigates, minehunters and submarines…and also on the cutting edge with using drones across various missions. 

“The other NATO navies do their bit too, including the ex-HMS London, in which I sailed to Murmansk and Archangel in 1991 and which serves on to this day as the ROS Regina Maria in the Romanian fleet.”

Speaking after a week during which three Russian warships including the flagship Admiral Makarov were reportedly damaged by Ukrainian drone attacks, he added: “The Russian Navy has lost the ability to operate in the western Black Sea following the loss of the cruiser RFS Moskva, plus other vessels, and was also forced to quit Snake Island.

“Today it is not even safe in its main base of Sevastopol, in the Crimea, as demonstrated in recent months via Ukrainian air and sea drone attacks. 

“It has been forced to fall back on its major naval base at Novorossiysk on the eastern shores of the Black Sea.

“It has been a major naval hub for Russia for some years, as I saw when I visited there in the early 1990s, and is even more important to Moscow now.”

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Turkey’s increasingly important strategic role was emphasised by Alp Sevimlisoy, a Millennium Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington specialising in NATO’s role within the Mediterranean region,When he spoke to Express.co.uk last month.

He explained: What we will be seeing and what we should be seeing is the creation of intelligence alliances equivalent to Five Eyes, which will encompass Turkey, the UK, the US and further, a direct military alliance between these three countries.

“Because more than even NATO, it’s those countries within NATO that are able to take part in operations overseas.“

He added: “The new strategic power, the supreme power in that region is Turkey now.

“Russia is at the behest of Turkey and rather than a personal relationship between national leaders, what we are seeing is that the Republic of Turkey, the Turkish Armed Forces, and President Erdogan by de facto have become the supreme power in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.“

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Separately, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged Turkey on Thursday to set aside its reservations over Finland and Sweden’s efforts to join the military alliance, insisting the Nordic neighbours have done enough to satisfy Ankara’s concerns about their membership.

Finland and Sweden applied for membership of the world’s biggest security alliance in the months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February.

In doing so, they abandoned longstanding policies of military nonalignment out of concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin might target them next.

However, Turkey, which joined NATO in 1952, is still not ready to endorse them despite months of trilateral talks. The Turkish government wants them to crack down on individuals it considers terrorists, such as supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and people suspected of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup in Turkey.

Speaking after talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Istanbul, Mr Stoltenberg told reporters: “Finland and Sweden have delivered on their commitment to Turkey. They have become strong partners in our joint fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

“It’s time to welcome Finland and Sweden as full members of NATO. Their accession will make our alliance stronger and our people safer.

”In these dangerous times, it’s even more important to finalise their accession, to prevent any misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow.”

Mr Cavusoglu said the schedule for accepting them as new members would depend on when Turkey’s demands, agreed upon in a joint memorandum, were fulfilled.

He explained: “These two countries must take important steps on combatting terror because one of the biggest threats NATO is facing today is terrorism,” the Turkish minister said.

“It’s not possible to say right now that the two countries have completely implemented all aspects of the memorandum,” he added, while stressing that Turkey supports NATO’s enlargement.

Mr Cavusoglu said Turkey sees the new government in Sweden as “more determined” to fulfil the memorandum signed in Madrid. The new Swedish prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, is scheduled to visit Ankara on Nov 8, he said.

All 30 NATO member countries must officially ratify the accession protocol for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance. Only the parliaments of Turkey and Hungary have yet to do so.

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