| 22 February 2024, Thursday |

Turkey urges respect for Black Sea straits pact after closing access

Turkey is urging all parties involved in the Ukraine crisis to follow an international agreement on transit via the Turkish straits to the Black Sea, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying on Tuesday, after Ankara barred access.

Turkey, a NATO partner, borders Ukraine and Russia on the Black Sea and maintains cordial relations with both. Ankara has the power, under the 1936 Montreux Convention, to restrict transportation via its straits during warfare.

This allows it to prevent Russian warships from entering the Black Sea. The accord exempts ships returning to their home bases.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was cited by state media as saying that Turkey had demanded all Black Sea and non-Black Sea states to halt passage through its straits.

“Eroding Montreux or disrupting the status quo in any way is to nobody’s benefit. We see a benefit in preserving Montreux. We tell all sides that it would be beneficial to abide by Montreux,” Akar told reporters after Monday’s cabinet meeting, his ministry said.

In a call on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken “expressed his appreciation” to Cavusoglu for Turkey’s implementation of the accord, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Yoruk Isik, an Istanbul-based geopolitical analyst and head of the Bosphorus Observer consultancy, told Reuters that Turkey had closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits to all states.

“So it’s really happened, it’s closed… It’s closed to all maritime traffic, not only to Russian ships,” Isik said, adding the closure should be seen as Ankara giving Moscow “breathing room” to determine its position.

At least four Russian ships are waiting to cross from the Mediterranean.

While calling Russia’s invasion an unacceptable violation of international law, Turkey has carefully formulated its rhetoric not to offend Moscow, with which Ankara has close ties in energy, defence and tourism. It has called for dialogue and offered to host peace talks.

Late on Monday, President Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko about ceasefire talks between Russia and Ukraine on Belarus’ border, his office said.

“We are determined to use the powers the Montreux Convention grants our country to ease the crisis,” Erdogan said after the cabinet meeting. “We will surely not compromise on our national interests, but we will also not disregard regional and global balances. This is why we cannot abandon ties with Russia or Ukraine.”

While forging close ties with Russia, Turkey has also sold drones to Ukraine and signed a deal to co-produce more, angering Moscow. It also opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya, as well as its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“Turkey is really doing its best, or you can see it bends over backwards not to offend Russia,” Isik said.

  • Reuters