Six Russian warships on their way to the Black Sea for exercises

MOSCOW/ISTANBUL, Feb 8 (Reuters) – Six Russian warships are heading to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean for naval exercises, the Interfax news agency said on Tuesday quoting the Russian Defense Ministry, in what he called it a pre-planned movement of military means.

Russia announced last month that its navy would hold an extensive series of exercises involving all of its fleets in January and February, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, in the latest show of force in a flurry of military activity during a stalemate with the West over Ukraine. Read more

Three of the ships passed through the Turkish Strait to the Black Sea on Tuesday, according to a Reuters witness. Turkish sources said the other three are expected to pass on Wednesday.

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The ships include Korolev, Minsk and Kaliningrad, which sailed the Bosphorus on Tuesday, while Pyotr Morgunov, Georgy Pobedonosets and Olenegorsky Gornyak are due to pass on Wednesday.

Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border. It denies any invasion plans but seeks sweeping security guarantees, including a promise not to deploy missiles near its borders, a reduction in NATO‘s military infrastructure and a ban on Ukraine joining the ‘alliance.

Legally, NATO member Turkey could close the strait to transit if Russia were to take military action against Ukraine.

“Turkey is authorized to close the strait to all foreign warships in time of war or when threatened with aggression. In addition, it is authorized to refuse transit to merchant ships belonging to countries at war with Turkey. Turkey,” said Yoruk Isik, an agent based in Istanbul. geopolitical analyst and head of the consulting firm Bosphorus Observer.

Turkey, which shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, has said any military conflict would be unacceptable and told Moscow any invasion would be reckless.

However, President Tayyip Erdogan has also offered to mediate the row between Moscow and Kyiv. Ankara enjoys cordial relations with both countries, although Erdogan says he will do what is necessary as a NATO member in the event of a Russian invasion.

French President Emmanuel Macron said after talks in the Kremlin with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that he believed steps could be taken to defuse the crisis and called on all parties to remain calm. Read more

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Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Editing by Andrew Osborn, Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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