Turkey set to reject Ukraine’s call to close Bosphorus to Russia

Turkey today appears to be closing the door on Ukraine’s request to block Russian vessel movements in the Bosphorus and other parts of the Turkish Strait on Friday.

Even if Turkey decided to invoke the relevant clauses of the Treaty of Montreux, the international instrument that governs maritime traffic in the strait, Russian warships would have the right to cross the Bosphorus once, on a last single to their Black Sea bases. , Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters on Friday.

At the moment, it is not even clear whether the conflict in Ukraine is officially qualified as a war that would allow Turkey to take such a step and Turkish legal experts are currently looking into the matter, according to dispatches quoted by the minister. Foreign Affairs.

The Turkish Strait includes the Bosphorus, the Sea of ​​Marmara and the Hellespont Strait further south.

Being Russia’s only gateway from the landlocked Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and beyond, they are a potential bottleneck for the country’s navy.

Their importance to Russia is evidenced by the fact that they are by far their largest military user.

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According to the latest available annual report on the implementation of the Montreux Treaty, Russia alone accounted for 62% of the 214 naval ship crossings recorded in 2019.

The United States, the second largest military user of the Turkish Strait, accounted for just 10% of all crossings. Ukraine, which is Russia’s adversary and has a small navy with minimal ability to project power outside its own waters, made no crossings that year.

The Bosphorus plays a less important role for Russian commercial ships.

Nearly 40,000 ships pass through the Bosphorus each year, and Russian-flagged ships account for less than 10% of this traffic. However, the gateway is extremely important for Russian trade in crude oil and tankers carried by ships flying other flags, mainly that of Malta, Liberia, Panama or the Marshall Islands.

Turkey’s ability to interfere with commercial shipping is even more restricted than its ability to meddle in military shipping.

According to the Treaty of Montreux, merchant and naval vessels enjoy almost complete freedom of passage and navigation through the straits, even in times of war – provided that Turkey itself is not a belligerent.

Turkey is free to decide which warships to allow through the strait only if it is itself a belligerent or if it considers itself “threatened in imminent danger of war”.

Merchant ships, on the other hand, continue to enjoy complete freedom to cross the Bosphorus even when Turkey is at war, provided they do not belong to or assist an enemy state.

The Montreux Treaty has stood the test of time well since its adoption in 1936 and Turkey would be reluctant to be seen violating it.

The maritime and international communities cherish the Montreux regime so much that observers even raised concerns last year that Turkish plans to build an artificial waterway parallel to the Bosphorus could undermine it.

Turkish officials, however, dismissed those fears. The Montreux rules would continue to apply to the new $10 billion project dubbed the Istanbul Canal, they said.

Read all of TradeWinds’ coverage of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine by by clicking here.

Sharon P. Juarez