Russian envoy hails Turkey’s implementation of Montreux

Russian envoy to Turkey Aleksei Erkhov said on Wednesday that Moscow appreciated Ankara’s stance on honoring the Montreux Convention over the Turkish Strait amid the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia.

Stressing that the convention is of immediate interest to Russia, Erkhov, speaking on Habertürk TV, said: “I must say that Turkey’s position to preserve and respect the Montreux Convention, which is an important legal document , is welcomed”.

He said Russia is in constant contact with Turkish officials over the use of the strait.

On February 27, Turkey officially recognized Russia’s attacks on Ukraine as a “state of war” and said it was implementing an international treaty giving Ankara the power to limit the passage of warships through the strategic Dardanelles and Bosphorus. Ankara had previously called the Russian invasion a “military operation”.

“In the event of a war in which Turkey is not a party, Turkey can close the strait to the countries involved in the war. Article 19 of the Montreux Convention is self-explanatory,” Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu recently told CNN Türk TV channel.

The Montreux Convention of 1936 governs the free movement of commercial ships in peacetime through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles and grants Turkey the right to block warships in times of war if they are threatened. Ukraine has officially asked Turkey to close the Dardanelles Strait – and therefore access to the Black Sea – to Russian ships.

NATO member Turkey, which has close ties to Russia and Ukraine, did not immediately respond to the request.

But Çavuşoğlu said Turkey could not prevent Russian and Ukrainian ships from accessing the Black Sea because of Article 19 of the convention which allows ships from riparian states to return to their home ports.

Speaking about the ongoing conflict, Erkhov said modern weapons that would be installed in Ukraine in case it joined NATO threatened its national security. He said Russia had raised concerns with the United States and NATO about easing tensions, but its suggestions had been rejected.

The ambassador claimed that Ukraine had started a war against the Russians in the east of the country in 2014 and that Moscow had launched an “operation” to demilitarize it.

Delegations from Russia and Ukraine are expected to hold talks in Belarus on Thursday, a second round of face-to-face talks since the Russian invasion eight days ago.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency said a million people had fled Ukraine since Russian forces invaded last week. It marks the fastest exodus of refugees this century. Additionally, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) condemned the invasion and called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

The UNGA voted on Wednesday to demand that Russia halt its offensive in Ukraine and withdraw all its troops, with nations ranging from world powers to small island states condemning Moscow. The vote was 141 to 5, with 35 abstentions.

Turkey has also stepped up its diplomacy and called for talks and a ceasefire to prevent further escalation that could destabilize the region.

Turkey has found itself in a balancing act between Russia and Ukraine given the friendly ties and Black Sea maritime borders it shares with both sides. NATO member Turkey also enjoys good economic and political relations with both countries and Erdoğan said earlier last week that Ankara does not want to alienate either state.

Turkey has offered to mediate in the crisis and had previously warned Russia not to invade Ukraine. Ankara has closely followed the developments and is in close contact with Kyiv and Moscow. While forging defense and energy cooperation, Turkey has opposed Moscow’s policies in Syria and Libya, as well as its 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula. It has also sold drones sophisticated to Ukraine, angering Russia. Turkey has also strongly opposed Russia’s recognition of the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

While Turkey’s call for mediation and its offer to host a meeting of the Minsk Group in Istanbul was welcomed by Ukraine, Russia refrained from formally accepting the offer.

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Sharon P. Juarez