Six Russian warships are heading to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean for naval drills, the Interfax news agency has cited Russia’s Defence Ministry as saying, in what it said was a preplanned movement of military resources.
Russia announced last month its navy would stage a sweeping set of exercises involving all its fleets in January and February, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, in the latest show of strength in a surge of military activity during a standoff with the West over Ukraine.
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The six ships are scheduled to pass through Turkey’s straits to the Black Sea on Tuesday and Wednesday, Turkish sources said.
The vessels include the Korolev, the Minsk and the Kaliningrad, which are set to navigate the Bosphorus on Tuesday, while the Pyotr Morgunov, the Georgy Pobedonosets and the Olenegorsky Gornyak are expected to pass on Wednesday.
Russia has amassed more than 100,000 soldiers near the Ukraine border. It denies any plans to invade but is seeking sweeping security guarantees, including a promise of no missile deployments near its borders, a scaling back of NATO military infrastructure and a ban on Ukraine ever joining the alliance.
Legally, NATO member Turkey could shut the straits to transit if Russia were to take military action against Ukraine.
“Turkey is authorised to close the straits to all foreign warships in wartime or when it is threatened by aggression. Also, it is authorised to refuse transit to merchant ships belonging to countries at war with Turkey,” said Yoruk Isik, a geopolitical analyst based in Istanbul.
Turkey, which shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, has said any military conflict would be unacceptable and has told Moscow any invasion would be unwise.
However, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also offered to mediate in the dispute between Moscow and Kyiv. Ankara has cordial relations with both countries, though Erdogan says it will do what is necessary as a NATO member in the event of a Russian invasion.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said the Ukraine crisis might take months to resolve. He was speaking after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv a day after holding talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Macron said his hours-long meeting with the Russian president helped to ensure that “there’s no degradation and no [further] escalation”.