Russian navy pours south through Bosphorus

Observers in Istanbul are gathering evidence of what seems to be increasing Russian naval activity of a military nature — ships moving from the Black Sea towards the Mediterranean via the Bosphorus Straits. Turkish ship-spotters have described numerous vessels, including a general-purpose tank landing ship with bow and stern ramps for unloading vehicles. They speculate that these might be bound for Syria. Euronews sent an official request for comment to the Russian Defence Ministry, but received no immediate response. Photographer Yörük Işık, who is an amateur military ship observer, said: “In our observation group, the most important development we have seen is that commercial ships have also been used to carry military equipment, although not explosives. There are pre-fabricated barracks, water tanks and military trucks; we saw the logos used by Russian troops deployed in Ukraine.” Işık told us this unusual Russian activity gathered momentum late this summer, in parallel with Moscow’s deepening involvement in the Syrian civil war. He shares his photos on his Twitter account @yorukisik. “The pace of this traffic has revved up our hobby — we almost can’t keep up with all the ships. Every day last week there was a Russian military ship in the Bosphorus. Some days two or three Russian ships went through, at different times or at the same time. For example, last Saturday one was returning to its home port of Sevastopol while another bound for the Mediterannean passed each other right here, under the Bosphorus Bridge.” A Russian defense ministry statement cited by the US Naval Institute think tank last Thursday said the Russian ships were headed for “training activity — anti-submarine, anti-ship, air defense and search-and-rescue”. Our correspondent Bora Bayraktar summed up: “The amateur photographers we talked to say the Russian military ship traffic in the Straits has accelerated since August. It looks highly likely that this will increase as Russia tries to build a new naval base in Syria and support President Assad’s regime.”