The pact regulating the transition of Black Sea warships has made Turkey a key player in the region, with Russian-Ukrainian tensions dangerously escalating. Under the international Montreux Convention, Turkey, a member of NATO, controls the passage of ships between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, making it a potentially key player in any military conflict between Russia and Ukraine. .
Earlier this month, six Russian warships and a submarine transited Turkey’s Dardanelles and Bosphorus Strait to the Black Sea for what Moscow called naval exercises near Ukrainian waters.
The Montreux Convention was signed in 1936 after Turkey, concerned about expansionist movements in the region, asked the signatories of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne for a change in the way the straits are policed. He said circumstances had changed and asked for full authority. After negotiations with world powers such as the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, France and others, it was agreed that Turkey would control the strait, as it neighbors Russia, Ukraine, of Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia on the Black Sea.
Under the agreement, Turkey controls the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles and has the power to regulate the transit of warships. It also guarantees the free passage of civilian ships in times of peace and restricts the passage of ships not belonging to the Black Sea countries.
In times of war, Turkey is authorized to close the straits to all foreign warships or when threatened with aggression. It can also refuse transit to merchant ships from countries at war with Turkey and fortify the straits in case of conflict.
All non-Black Sea countries wishing to send ships must notify Turkey 15 days in advance, while Black Sea countries must give eight days’ notice.
Passage is limited to nine warships of a specific overall tonnage at any one time, with no vessel over 10,000 tons permitted to pass. Ships from a non-Black Sea country cannot exceed a total of 30,000 tons at any time, and ships are allowed to stay in the region for no more than 21 days. The Black Sea States can transit vessels of any tonnage.
Black Sea countries can send submarines across the strait with advance notice, as long as they were built, purchased, or sent for repair outside the Black Sea.
Civil aircraft may transit through routes authorized by the Turkish government. The deal does not contain restrictions on the passage of aircraft carriers, but Ankara says it controls that as well.
The 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea prompted calls for a revision of Montreux. But Turkey is not a signatory to the deal due to its long-running disputes with Greece, so the pact stuck.
In 2008, when Russia recognized the independence of the two Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Ankara rejected US demands to let its warships pass through the strait at a time when it was dependent on Russia for commodities and trade.
During World War II, the Montreux Agreement prevented the Axis powers from sending naval forces across the strait to attack the Soviet Union.
Since tensions erupted over Ukraine, Turkish officials have said only that Montreux is instrumental in maintaining regional peace. They did not specify what position Turkey would take in the event of war.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Turkey would do what is necessary as a NATO ally if Russia invades, without giving further details. Turkey has established close cooperation with Moscow in the areas of tourism, energy and defense in recent years. Turkey has also sold sophisticated drones to Ukraine and signed a deal to co-produce more, angering Moscow.
Complicating diplomacy, Turkey opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya even as it forges cooperation on the ground there. He also opposes Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its recognition of Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions as independent.
Russia’s decision to recognize two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent is unacceptable, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. Turkey has sent clear messages regarding ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, urging both sides to exercise common sense and respect international law, Erdoğan also said, calling the acknowledgment ‘unacceptable’ by President Vladimir Putin from the separatist regions of Ukraine.
The president canceled a planned trip to Guinea-Bissau and returned early from Africa to participate in an online meeting with NATO leaders on Wednesday. Erdoğan was on a three-day trip with key cabinet members to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Senegal and Guinea-Bissau, and was due to return to Turkey on Wednesday.
Erdoğan also told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday that Turkey opposes any move aimed at Ukraine’s territorial integrity after Russia said it recognized two regions in eastern Ukraine as independent.
Putin’s decision prompted the United States and the European Union to consider possible sanctions against Russia. Turkey, which has a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, opposes sanctions on principle.
In a statement, the Turkish presidency said Erdoğan reiterated that Turkey found Russia’s decision unacceptable during the call with Zelenskyy and called “for all resources of diplomacy to be used on the scene international” to resolve the crisis.
Turkey is in a unique situation: it has good relations with Ukraine and Russia, but also opposes sanctions in principle, just as the West is about to impose them on Moscow as promised for a long time. Turkey has positioned itself as a neutral mediator for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, offering to host the leaders of the two countries or technical-level talks in Istanbul or Ankara.
“Sanctions against Russia are useless. You only postpone problems,” the president’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalın told Die Welt over the weekend, adding that “new rules and new principles” were needed to that Russia and the West “feel safe”. “Russia feels threatened by NATO,” he added.