Ukraine Plans to Ask Turkey to Close the Bosporus to Russian Warships

Ropucha-class landing ship in an exercise (Russian Navy file image)

Published Feb 23, 2022 9:22 PM by The Maritime Executive

As the prospect of a full-scale Russian invasion grows closer, the government of Ukraine is planning to ask Turkey to exercise its right to close the Bosporus to combatant vessels. 

Russia has moved up to 190,000 troops and supporting units to the borders of Ukraine, including field hospitals, ambulances, military police brigades and prisoner transport buses. The size and composition of the force aligns with U.S. intelligence predictions dating back to early December, and U.S. officials warn that the assets necessary for a full-scale attack are now in place.

One element of the expected attack is a midsized amphibious assault on Ukraine's Black Sea or Sea of Azov coastline. Last month, the Russian Navy dispatched six tank landing ships to the Black Sea to join this invasion force, along with one additional Kilo-class sub. These assets transited the Bosporus on February 8-12 and are already in place for the invasion. The combined force has deployed to sea for "exercises," along with two repair ships - a vessel class not normally required for maneuvers, according to analyst H.I. Sutton. 

No further arrivals are expected in the theater, but Ukraine still plans to ask Turkey to close the waterway to the Russian Navy in the days to come.

"We believe that, in case of a wide military invasion or the starting of military activities against Ukraine – when the war becomes not only de facto but de jure – we will ask the Turkish government to consider the possibility of closing the Black Sea straits for the aggressor state," said Ukrainian Ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar.

The 1936 Montreux Convention granted Turkey jurisdiction over traffic on the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, and it restricted the movements of certain naval vessel classes to and from the Black Sea. The convention allows Turkey to close the waterway to military vessels during times of war. 

In addition to the force arrayed in the Black Sea, a supporting force of Russian warships and submarines is staged in the Eastern Mediterranean, including two of Russia's three Slava-class cruisers. These Soviet-era missile platforms are purpose-built for targeting aircraft carriers, and a Pentagon official told USNI News that their presence - and the presence of a third in the Black Sea - is concerning for American operations. Three NATO carriers, including the supercarrier USS Harry S. Truman, are currently stationed in the Mediterranean.