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Russian Tank Landing Ships Transit Bosporus, Headed for Black Sea

landing ship
One of the six landing ships under way for the Black Sea, Feb. 8 (Russian Ministry of Defense)

Published Feb 8, 2022 1:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

Six Russian Navy tank landing ships that have been making their way from Northern Europe to the Eastern Mediterranean are now heading towards the Black Sea, fulfilling analysts' predictions. The vessels augment the seven tank landing ships of the Black Sea Fleet, and they are expected to support a potential invasion of Ukraine, either by engaging in an amphibious assault or by maintaining a presence off the coast. Either choice would tie up Ukrainian ground forces for the defense of an additional front, reducing availability of Ukrainian Army units to resist an invasion along the borders with Russia and Belarus. 

According to analyst Konrad Muzyka of Rochan Consulting, at least three of the six tank landing ships got under way carrying elements of the 336th Naval Infantry Brigade. These units are equipped with the BTR-82A armored personnel carrier, a fully amphibious 8x8 vehicle propelled by a waterjet in waterborne mode. 

The small flotilla refueled and re-provisioned at the Russian Navy base at Tartus, Syria over the weekend, demonstrating the value of Russia's multi-decade port concession with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In return, al-Assad - who is under stringent U.S. sanctions for war crimes - has benefited from Russian air support and arms in his long-running conflict with rebel factions in the country's north. 

Analysts noted that by transiting the Bosporus in advance of the onset of any hostilities, Russian Navy assets can ensure that they will be in place in the Black Sea in the weeks and months to come. In the event of war, Turkey - a NATO member - can invoke its right to close the Bosporus to combatants, barring further transfers of naval vessels. 

Putin threatens broader conflict

In private discussions with French President Emmanual Macron on Monday, President Vladimir Putin pledged to halt escalation along Ukraine's borders; in public, the Kremlin has denied making any such promises, and the Russian military continues to move military units to staging areas near the Ukrainian border. 

At a press conference after his meeting with Macron, Putin threatened nuclear war if Ukraine is ever allowed to join NATO and benefit from its collective defense agreement. 

"Do you understand it or not, that if Ukraine joins NATO and attempts to bring Crimea back by military means, the European countries will be automatically pulled into a war conflict with Russia?" said Putin. "Of course the [military] potential of NATO and Russia are incomparable. We understand it. But we also understand that Russia is one of the leading nuclear states, and by some modern components it even outperforms many. There will be no winners."