War in Ukraine rekindles tri-national Black Sea fleet idea

Istanbul-class Turkish frigate. (defenseimagery.mil)
By Dénes Albert
3 Min Read

Russia’s invasion of Turkey has revived plans for a multi-national Black Sea fleet, Romanian news portal Ziare reports.

NATO first began considering such a force after the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, but all but abandoned the plan by 2016.

At the time, the proposal came from Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the rise of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Bulgaria and Turkey rejected it with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov saying at the time he wanted to see sailing ships in the Black Sea, not warships.

The creation of a joint fleet of the three NATO countries in the Black Sea as a way to stop Russia is relevant again. It was included in a report by Lord Lancaster, a U.K. Conservative MP and former defense minister, to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Defence and Security Committee. The idea was also discussed at the NATO summit in Vilnius.

Because of its capabilities, Turkey will play a leading role in the fleet, thus avoiding the restrictions of the Montreux Convention, Lord Lancaster stressed. According to the convention signed in 1936, military vessels of countries not bordering the Black Sea can only stay in the Black Sea for a maximum of 21 days.

In addition, the convention gives Turkey the right to close the (Bosphorus and Dardanelles) straits in the event of a war in which it is not participating. In line with the convention, Turkey has not allowed warships to cross the Bosphorus since Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia attacked Ukraine. The last NATO ship stationed in the Black Sea was the French frigate Auvergne, which left the Bosphorus in January 2022.

If such a multi-national fleet becomes a reality, Turkey will undoubtedly be the lead force: its navy currently has three German diesel-electric submarines (one of which is undergoing modernization) and another five on order, also from Germany. It also has 12 fighting ships of various designations.

In comparison, Romania has a single diesel-electric submarine, currently only used for dockside training due to lack of parts and maintenance, and 10 frigates and corvettes, complemented by attack boats and minesweepers. Bulgaria only has two frigates, both in need of upgrades, two corvettes, and a handful of minesweepers.

Regele Ferdinand (formerly HMS Coventry), flagship of the Romanian Navy. (mapn.ro)

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