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Turkey Bars Warships From Black Sea Straits Amid Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Russian warship Dmitriy Rogachyov in Sevastopol
Ukraine asked Turkey to activate a 90-year-old pact, which can be used to prevent Russian warships from entering the Black Sea, on Monday. Credit: Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation, via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0

Turkey barred warships from passing through key straits in the Black Sea in a bid to de-escalate the Russia-Ukraine crisis on Monday.

The move came after Ukraine asked Turkey to activate a 90-year-old international pact that can be used to prevent Russian warships from entering the Black Sea through the Mediterranean.

Russia launched an incursion on Ukraine’s southern coast, via the Black Sea, as part of its invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey’s move also covers the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits which also connect the Aegean and Marmara.

Turkey aims to de-escalate Russia-Ukraine crisis using Montreux Convention

Turkey’s Monday announcement declared that it was activating the Montreux Convention, warning both the Black Sea and non-Black Sea countries not to ply their warships through the Turkish waterways.

Under a 1936 pact, Turkey has the right to bar warships from using the Bosporus and Dardanelles during wartime.

Map of Turkey's Montreux Convention
The Bosphorus (red), the Dardanelles (yellow), and the Sea of Marmara in between, are known collectively as the Turkish Straits. Turkey has closed both, under the Montreux Convention, to try and de-escalate the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Credit: Thomas Steiner, via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

“We have alerted both countries of the region and elsewhere not to pass warships through the Black Sea,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. “We are applying the Montreux Convention.”

As per the pact, Turkey cannot block all Russian warships from accessing the Black Sea because it is obligated to allow said ships to return to their registered base. Cavusoglu was adamant, though, in an interview with CNN Turk, that that there “should not be any abuse of this exemption,” saying that ships declaring they are returning to their bases should not be involved in the war.

It is not clear, however, what impact Turkey’s decision to close down the straits would have on the conflict, although at least six Russian warships — and a submarine — have transited the Turkish straits in February.

The announcement came shortly after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested his government would use “authority given to our country by the Montreux Convention regarding maritime traffic in the straits in a way that will prevent the crisis from escalating,” but reiterated that Turkey will not give up on its relations with either Russia or Ukraine.

“We will not compromise our national interests,” Erdogan said, “but we will not neglect regional and global balances.”

Turkey’s NATO commitments, close ties to Russia a focal point during crisis

Being a member of NATO, Turkey has taken a number of steps to balance its commitments to the West as well as its close ties to Moscow, but on Sunday, it broke away from its relative neutrality in the conflict, describing the situation in Ukraine as a war.

“We say that we won’t give up neither Ukraine nor Russia,” Erdogan said. Even as NATO members have hit Russia with sanctions, any step too far by Turkey could harm its heavy Russian energy imports, trade and tourism sector at a time of domestic economic turmoil.

Cavusoglu also said he spoke to counterparts from both countries and was pleased to hear that they would hold negotiations.

Erdogan said on Monday that he considers “Russia’s attack on Ukrainian territory as unacceptable,” calling for good faith negotiations from all sides to resolve this situation, which has shaken Europe — raising even nuclear war alarm bells.

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