John Helmer: Russia Fires Moon Shot Over the Bosphorus – Turks Threaten War

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

It isn’t exactly certain what the Turkish military saw on a foredeck deck of the Russian Navy’s landing ship, Caesar Kunikov, as it passed through the Bosphorus Strait last Sunday. What is certain is that the Turkish Foreign Ministry declared the Russians had launched “a pure provocation” at Turkey, and that the Turks would react with matching force. “The necessary answer will be given in situations deemed to be a threat,” announced Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who has been foreign minister for 12 days.

Hurriyet, a Turkish newspaper, identified the source of its photograph as the Twitter account of “photographer Emre Dağdeviren”. The photograph has disappeared from that source, if it ever was there.

The London media also went on the attack. The Guardian published a photograph, but the caption, “Photograph: None”, failed to identify the source or the authenticity. The Financial Times reported its Istanbul correspondent as saying it was “a particularly chilling incident.” With more caution, Reuters claimed that the Turkish television channel NTV “broadcast photographs that it said showed a serviceman brandishing a rocket launcher on the deck”. Reuters wasn’t sure what had happened, or whether the photographs had been fabricated; but the Reuters headline declared “Turkey [was] angered by by rocket-brandishing on Russian naval ship passing Istanbul.”

The Caesar Kunikov is a Project 775-type large landing ship of the Russian Navy, built in 1986. Assigned to the Black Sea fleet and homeported at Sevastopol, it is named after a Jewish naval infantry officer who was killed in action in the Arctic in 1943. The vessel has been recorded by the Turks as making several round-trips through the Straits this year.


A Turkish Navy source claims: “According to the Montreux Convention any Black Sea nation must inform Turkey 8 days before the passage of its warship. 14 days have passed since the shooting of the Russian fighter plane. If Russia wanted to reinforce its fleet off the coast of Syria with warships from the Black Sea Fleet these ship would have been passing through the Turkish Straits in last 5 days. We have seen the southbound passage of 3 military landing ships (Korolev, Saratov, Caesar Kunikov) and northbound passage of 4 military landing ships and 2 auxiliary cargo ships (Caesar Kunikov, Yamal, Minsk, Korolev, Yauza, Dvinitsa-50) in the last 15 days.”

The Turkish Navy site mistook the “pure provocation”, dating it two days before the Turkish foreign minister made his claim. “One of the most documented and discussed passages was the one of Caesar Kunikov. During the southbound passage of this ship on 4th December 2015, a single sailor carrying what appears to be a 9K38 Igla (SA-18 “Grouse”) was photographed. The commanding officer of a warship has the duty to take all necessary precautions to protect his ship and his crew. But the show with the single Sa-18 was neither funny nor logical. If the missile was against Turkish Air Force it was definitely not enough, if the missile was against Daesh Air Force it was too much since they do not have any planes yet. So it was just a gesture to annoy.”

According to the Hurriyet report, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu declared: “For a Russian soldier to display a rocket launcher or something similar while passing on a Russian warship is a provocation. If we perceive a threatening situation, we will give the necessary response.”

The Igla (Russian for “needle”) is manufactured by KB Mashynostroyeniya (KBM), and is designed to defend against aerial targets at ranges of up to 6 kilometres, and altitudes of up to 3,500 metres. It is standard issue for Russian troops. It is also used by regular armies worldwide. These include the Turks, who have been reported in London as having supplied the Igla rocket systems to rebel groups they manage in Syria for attacks against the Syrian government’s forces.


Its infra-red homing system may also be adapted for targeting fast speedboats threatening larger warships. In the case of an explosives attack by a speedboat against the US Navy destroyer, USS Cole, in Aden port (Yemen) in October 2000, the destroyer’s rules of engagement did not allow on-board guards to fire on the approaching boat without first obtaining permission from a senior officer.


Seventeen US sailors were killed in the attack. In subsequent assessments of the incident, the USS Cole’s commanders and their superiors were criticized for their lack of readiness to fire in self-defence.

A Turkish Foreign Ministry summons to Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov took place in Ankara on December 7. The next day a Russian Foreign Ministry statement by spokesman Maria Zakharova said there had been no violation by the Caesar Kunikov of the Montreux Convention, the international treaty of 1936 which regulates vessel passage through the Bosphorus. For more on the treaty, read this. “Protection of the vessel is the legitimate right of any crew,” Zakharova said. “When our diplomats asked the Turkish side what exactly it finds to be a violation [by the Caesar Kunikov], apart from anything intelligible in the abstract reference to international legal norms, we have not heard a reply.”

The Russian spokesman said the ministry has photographs of a Spanish Navy mine-hunter, the ESPS Tajo (below), making its way through the Bosphorus in July of this year with its crew at gun stations.


“For some reason the picture of the armed heavy machine-gun sentry on the deck of a Spanish warship caused no questions from the Turkish side, and the media did not raise the issue”, Zakharova said. “The Russian ship [Caesar Kunikov] did not violate a single article of the Montreux Convention of 1936 governing the issues of navigation in the Straits, as well as the relevant provisions of the Turkish regulations”, she added.

The Montreux Convention does not grant Turkey sovereignty over the straits. Instead, it says navigation and transit are a collective security subject “in the Straits of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmora and the Bosphorus comprised under the general term ‘Straits’ in such manner as to safeguard, within the framework of Turkish security and of the security, in the Black Sea, of the riparian States.” Russia was,still is, one of the riparian states of the Black Sea.

The pact has several provisions regulating the tonnage of warships and the armament of auxiliary vessels defined as “specifically designed for the carriage of fuel, liquid or non-liquid”. But there is no power for the Turks to dictate what arms may be carried or displayed by foreign warships. Article 13 of the Montreux explicitly exempts the master of a warship sailing through the Straits from having to notify the Turks of its armament or of anything but its intention to pass. “When effecting transit, the commander of the naval force shall be without any obligation to stop, communicate to a signal station at the entrance to the Dardanelles or the Bosphorus the exact composition of the force under his orders.”

Moscow’s leading independent military analyst, Gennady Nechayev of Vzglyad, said of the deployment of Igla-type arms on board vessels under way in the Bosphorus, “this is absolutely unremarkable. The Montreux Convention recognizes the right to armed guards on passing ships. If you look, there are hundreds of photos of seamen with arms or manning fire control systems during passage in the Straits.”

“Another point is of interest. Our ships have also been accused of the fact that now they do not make a salute when passing the flag of Turkey in its territorial waters. Yes, there is such an unwritten tradition, but it is nowhere recorded as binding. The decision to raise or not to raise the flag is taken solely by the vessel captain. Let the Janissaries rejoice that noone shows them the latrine [the head] from the deck. That was the British tradition in sailing days.”

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About David Dayen

David is a contributing writer to He has been writing about politics since 2004. He spent three years writing for the FireDogLake News Desk; he’s also written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, The Washington Monthly, Alternet, Democracy Journal and Pacific Standard, as well as multiple well-trafficked progressive blogs and websites. His has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He has contributed to two anthology books, one about the Wisconsin labor uprising and another on the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress. Prior to writing about politics he worked for two decades as a television producer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.


  1. ambrit

    This sounds like it’s for Turkish internal consumption. Sultan Erdogan needs to whip up some ‘nationalist fervour’ with which to silence his internal critics.
    Some commenters on other sites have been agitating for Russia to introduce tactical nukes into the Syrian conflict. It’s a bad idea. That class of weapon is primarily deployed against large conventional fighting forces. What would be the fallout from the beleaguered Russian forces in Syria using the nukes against Turkish troops, even if those troops were invading Syrian sovereign territory? The cynical side of me thinks this agitation campaign might be a disinformation campaign to set the Russians up for a war against all of NATO.

    1. JTMcPhee

      “…all we are saying, is give peace a chance…”

      More proof, as if any was needed, that we, or a more than genteel sufficiency of us humans, have a Fokkering Death Wish… How close can the hairy-chested or maybe more likely hairless chest-thumpers skate to the edge, taunting and puffing and itching?

      “Sara-je-vo, you’ve got me under your spell,
      And if you could speak, what a fascinating tale you could tell…”

    2. Jim McKay

      > Some commenters on other sites have been agitating for Russia to introduce tactical
      > nukes into the Syrian conflict.

      There’s no chance Putin will do this: nukes are useless in Syrian conflict, Russia’s tactics are making good progress there, and Putin has not demonstrated proclivity to do stupid things like this despite every US official and prez candidate seemingly firmly believing he “must be stopped”. US policy has become victim to our own lies.

      Nukes are coming into focus in another arena with Russia however, largely obscured by the 24/7 news coverage of Syria and recent IS attacks mostly explained by the same coterie of US “experts” so badly misinformed: the US “missile shield” against Russia… little more then massive 1st strike capability able to hit multiple Russian sites in less then 5 minutes.

      On Nov. 10 at Putin’s regular meeting with his top Generals they announced their proposed response: arm their submarines off US coast with their old, high radiation 100 megaton devices delivered by torpedo. Activate the torpedoes well off the coast, which would generate a +/- 300 ft. tsunami delivering high radiation and decimating coastal cities. We have no defense against this.

      Putin also said, “kill” the missile shield and all will be forgotten.

      1. ambrit

        True, nukes aren’t tasked for the kind of conflict Daesh is waging. However, if the Turks begin to move troops into northern Syria, all bets are off. I would expect the larger Russian Navy units in the Mediterranean to have nuclear capable cruise missiles. Do these ships have nukes onboard as standard Russian Navy policy?
        More importantly, is Erdogan edging into megalomania? The treaty delimiting the rights of passage through the Straits and Istanbul dates back to the 1930s. This latest stunt also looks like a trial balloon for Turkey “renegotiating” that treaty. If so, and if NATO backs Turkey in it, then war is inevitable. For Russia, I’d suspect that free passage through the Bosporus would be similar to Japan and the supply of oil and raw materials prior to WW2.

        1. OIFVet

          Yep, erdogan is a megalomaniac, as is davutoglu. Their aim is a new Ottoman Empire, and they are delusional enough to think that they can actually pull it off. Just think about Turkish actions in Syria, and now in Iraq. What is not widely known in the West is the diplomatic row between Bulgaria and Turkey over a Turkish map for school use published in 2012. It included all of Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, and Armenia, as well as parts of Syria and Iraq, as Turkish territory.. “Turkey has never had territorial claims against Bulgaria or any of its other neighboring countries, Turkish Ambassador to Bulgaria Ismail Aramaz has declared.”. It’s become clear that that was a bold-faced lie, yet some in Europe continue to think that appeasing the wanna-be sultan is the way to go…

          1. OIFVet

            More recently, the Milliyet daily published another map that generously “gives back” some of the territories. Frankly, I find the appeasing tone of the BG elites even more scandalous. The Milliyet daily has a firm pro-AKP, pro-erdogan editorial bent, so it is exceedingly doubtful it would do anything to rock the boat. More than likely, these maps reflect the thinking of the delusional wanna-be sultan and his equally delusional courtiers. Frankly, Turkey’s present government is a menace to regional and world peace, so the appeasement attitude of some Euros like Merkel is simply outrageous to those of us whose forebears experienced the Ottomans not-so-tender mercies.

          2. participant-observer-observed

            Alone, it is not so unusual; last I looked, maps taught in Taiwan schools still show Mongolia as part of the (republic of) Chinese empire, even though it has been a member of the UN and independent for a long time.

            Dangerously interesting that Turkey would hanker after Ottoman empire revival; it sounds like Islamic-State-itis on a more massive scale. That would make for an interesting strategy: kill off ISIS by one-up-manship, absorbing the little IS into the greater, all under the cover of NATO!

            1. fajensen

              NATO likes terrorists. We were giving them air-support in Libya. The real fun starts when one of the French Banlieue decides to secede and NATO precedence dictate that the French government must be prevented from restoring order within it’s own territory.

        2. Jim McKay

          > Do these ships have nukes onboard as standard Russian Navy policy?

          I honestly don’t know.

          > More importantly, is Erdogan edging into megalomania?

          He’s a big problem: his latest large troop movement into Mosul further evidence of his rather well publicized in Turkey, desire to re-establish Ottoman boundaries.

          Bigger problem AFAIC: we (US) turn blind eye to all this, for whatever reasons (Turkey is “one of our own” in NATO?). Beyond this, SA and Qatar have been fueling & funding the Syrian nightmare for sectarian reasons and we just go along with that as well. Essentially, we have allowed US to become one member of a coalition of non-reconcilable competing interests which have nothing to do with our stated goals there.

          It’s well known Ergo has used their Turkish border to run arms to Syrian rebels, with US tacit approval, mostly going to radical Islamic groups with no interest in Syria whatsoever.

          We have become part & parcel of problem in a Human right’s mess, and this Russian issue just an consequence of our sloppiness. US policy needs massive soul searching and re-constituting: I think we are close to a tipping point.

          1. ambrit

            Tipping point, yes. Which way is the question. That Putin should publically speak about destroying the American East Coast is a reiteration of the old M.A.D. doctrine. The man is nobodies fool. He would only make this threat if his country could carry it out. That he feels compelled to mention this in a public way shows how precarious the situation is. Putin seems to be trying to talk directly to the American public. This is an indication that the Russians see the American Government as irrational and a ‘lost cause.’
            I can also see the ‘Establishment’ mouthpieces trying to sabotage Sanders as being a “fellow traveler.”
            When a centrist like Sanders is tarred as a ‘wacko’ leftist, and Vlad Putin comes across as the adult in the room, the World is Turn’d Upside Down.

            1. optimader

              That Putin should publically speak about destroying the American East Coast is a reiteration of the old M.A.D. doctrine
              For domestic consumption IMO.

              Do these ships have nukes onboard as standard Russian Navy policy?
              I doubt it, what would be the point?

              I think we are close to a tipping point
              Tipping point to what?

      2. ewmayer

        Thanks, Jim, but I believe you mean 100 kiloton, not 100 megaton — largest H-bomb ever tested, the Soviet ‘czar bomb’, was 50 MT and required a specially modified plane to haul it.

        1. Jim McKay

          > Jim, but I believe you mean 100 kiloton, not 100 megaton

          100 megaton ewmayer, not to quibble but that’s what was said. See here.

          > largest H-bomb ever tested, the Soviet ‘czar bomb’, was 50 MT and required
          > a specially modified plane to haul it.

          Read specs on this underwater “drone”, it’s massive. You are right about “czar bomb” @ 50mt and largest ever *exploded*. Apparently some of these monsters were made but never detonated. I’ve been told Andrei Sakharov (lead designer of “czar” bomb) wrote about these in his memoirs but I can’t confirm.

          Either way (50 or 100), I don’t think it changes much: this is (if they’re serious) Russia’s deterrent to our missile defense system and 50 mt would do the trick. They clearly don’t want to do this.

    3. k.,

      Agreed, Turks are crazy nationalistic and Islamic, with a huge inferiority complex with the West. This staged pathetic bravado tool will end this news cycle.
      Turkey’s whole economy is remittances, FDI, and crime. They need Russia more than it needs Turkey. Besides, it’s Thanksgiving. We already had Turkey.

    4. fajensen

      Why go straight to nukes without passing the “Arm the Kurds with real weaponry, including AA missiles”?

      If anyone wanted to nuke anything to stop IS, it should be Saudi Arabia – the Inverse George Foreman: “Kill the head and the body will die” would apply here.

      But, then again, the Yemenite’s seem to be kicking Saudi butt already despite generous “Western” support and it is even rumored that Saudi Arabia will go bust in 2020 ( – so – Russia could, if Russia wanted to mess a little further, arm the Houtis, the main rebels in Yemen.

      I think that Putin believes that things are going well enough on their own – Turks getting crazier by the day and certain to do something really stupid in the near future; The US representatives ranting and raving making the US looking ever more deranged and irrational; The Saudis running their economy down and being threatened, possibly invaded, by people in Clogs. No Nukes Required.

  2. JohnB

    Unless the guy holding the rocket launcher is standing directly in the shadow of something, blocking the sun completely, that photograph looks awfully suspicious as a probable fake.

  3. Jagger

    old, high radiation 100 megaton devices delivered by torpedo. Activate the torpedoes well off the coast, which would generate a +/- 300 ft. tsunami delivering high radiation and decimating coastal cities.

    Learn something new everyday. Never heard of that one before.

  4. Malcolm MacLeod,MD

    One thing becomes clear. Turkey is not acting in the best interests of NATO, and
    should never have been permitted to join. We, as well as Russia, have a lot to lose
    with Turkey’s intransigence. We have to cool it down, not Russia.

  5. RBHoughton

    Seems the Turks can’t get anything right these days.

    As a schoolboy I remember reading a British prime minister “the Turks must go bag and baggage from the land they have desolated and profaned.”

    That was Greece. Today its Syria. We should be thankful we are not Turkish neighbours.

    Even Turkish Delight is bad for your health.

  6. Gokturk

    Sworn to put an end to Turkish race?
    Even theorizing nuking Turkey? Men, women, children.. all-together?
    As a human-being, I do wonder what kind of a sin we have committed to deserve that. Is it just because we converted to Islam from Tengriism? Or is it because your main target became Islam after Vietnam? (Why so? Why do you fear that religion so much?) Maybe, it is our geographical location (that we have settled in such a strategic location which all of you desperately tried to take countless times)?

    Oh, I should also tell you that we are well aware of your hypocrisy. Before you comment about us, please correct your own rotten, unequal system of democracy (here).. that how victors dominate the rest of the member countries…

    Then I humbly ask you to remember, Gallipoli and how all of you, all-together came at us and how we kicked your… (but most of all, remember these words)
    Also, remember Korea (and remember the words of your elders about us.)
    And in the meantime remember the rest of us, Azerbaijanis, Chuvashes, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmens, Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Bashkirs, Qashqai, Gagauz, Altai, Khakas, Tatars, Tuvans, Yakuts, Crimean Karaites, Huns, Krymchaks, Karakalpaks, Karachays, Balkars, Nogais…

    Sure, you can kill us; but you can never defeat us.

    All I am asking for you is “to think”.. and if you have the time, come for a visit to our country(ies).. and be our guests, share our breads.

    We don’t bite.

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