The Syrian Express, Merchant Marine section still seems to be in use
The current closure of the Turkish Straits under Montreux applies only to naval vessels. Free transit through the Straits for commercial purposes continues. Russia is abusing this distinction by using civilian merchant vessels as naval auxiliaries to supply logistics to its military operations in Syria and Ukraine. This is not the first time Moscow has done this either. At the height of its Syria campaign, the war effort required more supplies than the Russian Navy, or Voyenno-Morskoy Flot, could carry. Russia bought old civilian cargo ships from Turkey, reflagged them, and began using them for its war.
And now, Russia is once again using civilian ships to supply its military campaigns in Syria and Libya, and to fulfill existing contracts, such as Rosatom’s nuclear power plant construction in El Dabaa, Egypt or exporting defense products to Algeria. Russia is also plundering commodities from occupied territories in Ukraine, especially from the port of Sevastopol’s Avlita grain terminal. It is absurd that Russia has been allowed to weaponize commercial trade by illegally blockading the Odesa and Chornomorsk harbors, while also profiting from the sale of stolen Ukrainian grain, exported from an occupied Ukrainian port.
Currently, Russia is using five types of civilian merchant ships for war:
Cargo vessels owned by logistics company Oboronlogistika, part of the Russian Ministry of Defense. These purportedly civilian ships, such as Pizhma, Sparta, Sparta II, Ursa Major (x-Sparta III), and Sparta IV, regularly carry military cargo from Novorossiysk to Syria and from Baltic ports like Ust-Luga and Kaliningrad to Novorossiysk.
Russian-flag roll-on/roll-off cargo ships (ro-ros) of “private” Russian companies like Moscow-based M Leasing, which are owned by or working on behalf of the Russian government, such as Adler, Angara, and Lady Mariia, carry defense exports and transport weapons. For example, Russian-flag Lady Mariia carried arms from Kaliningrad to Novorossiysk. The same ship very recently carried weapons from Novorossiysk all the way to Myanmar, another conflict zone.
Older, non-Russian-flag ro-ros not seen in this region before but brought back into service and flying flags of convenience. These ships, such as Kocatepe (x-Varyag), Barbaros, Hızır, and Şampiyon Trabzonspor, now frequent Novorossiysk harbor, and are likely working as contractors for the Russian government. These ships, which carried military cargo in the past, are now prolonging the war in Ukraine by providing revenue and even transporting weapons for Russia’s use.
Russian-flag tankers regularly carry jet fuel to Hemeimeem Air Base in Syria. Several smaller tankers, especially Russian-flag Sig and Yaz, have been documented transporting aviation jet fuel to Baniyas, Syria for years. They are clearly not functioning as civilian ships and should be treated as Russian Navy auxiliary vessels. Preventing them from transiting the Turkish Straits would immediately ground the Russian Air Force in the Syrian theater. As Hemeimeem is also a refueling stop for flights to Russian military operations in the Central African Republic, Mali, and Venezuela, stopping these two ships would immediately disrupt Russian military operations globally.
Russian- or Syrian-flag bulk carriers that transport commodities like wheat, barley, or corn, such as Mikhail Nenashev, Matros Pozynich, Laodicea, Souria, and Finikia.
Russia has found a way to work around the current closure of the Turkish Straits by supplying logistics to its military operations in Syria or Ukraine using supposedly private companies and civilian ships. The use of civilian merchant vessels for war violates the spirit of the Montreux mechanism that was used to close the Turkish Straits. Even if it is legal, it is not acceptable and should not be allowed.