Turkey is preparing to close the Bosphorus to Russian warships. Ankara on Sunday described the fighting in Ukraine as a “war” for the first time, paving the way for the resumption of the Montreux Treaty regulating navigation through the waterway between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Article 19 of that treaty states that “in times of war (…) the warships of the warring factions shall not pass.”
On Monday, President Erdogan said Turkey would use its authority over the strait under Montreux to “prevent the escalation of war” between Ukraine and Russia. He chose his words very carefully so as not to offend any of the warring factions.
Because Ankara has close political, economic and military relations with both Kyiv and Moscow. With $4.5 billion, Turkey is the largest foreign investor in Ukraine. Seven hundred Turkish companies operate, including in the defense field.
Turkey is under intense pressure to prevent the Russians from accessing the important strategic strait. Ukrainian President Zelensky already made progress there in a tweet on Saturday, causing confusion and putting Turkey in a difficult position.
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The Turkish government is very keen on the Montreux interpretation, as the treaty gives Turkey full sovereignty over the Bosphorus, among many other rights it does not wish to jeopardize. Even if Turkey sets out to close the Bosphorus, it will only apply to some Russian warships. The treaty states that warships of the warring parties retain the right to return to their bases at all times.
The Turks would have asked other NATO countries for guarantees of their own security. Putin will not take the blockade lightly, and Turkey is vulnerable to Russian retaliation. For example, in the Syrian province of Idlib, where 3.4 million refugees reside. When Ukraine first deployed Turkish TB2 drones against separatists in the eastern Donbass region late last year, Russia immediately escalated its bombing campaign in Idlib.
Like many European countries, Turkey is highly dependent on Russian gas
also Turkish economy in crisis Weak. Putin could end Russian charter flights to the Turkish Riviera, as he did after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet over Syria in late 2015. This could thwart the recovery of the tourism sector and provide billions of euros in revenue, which Turkey desperately needs to keep the lira stable . Because last year the Russians were the largest group of foreign tourists with 4.7 million.
And the Like many European countries Turkey is highly dependent on Russian gas. If Putin cuts gas exports to Turkey, this could lead to problems, as happened recently when Iran temporarily halted gas. The Turkish industry suddenly became without gas and electricity. These are scenarios that Turkey is seriously considering. And also because the closure of the Bosporus strait prevented not only the supply of Russian equipment to Ukraine, but also to Syria.
That is why Turkey says it will comply with Montreux “literally” so that it cannot be accused of violating existing agreements or interfering in the conflict. Because although Turkey is a member of NATO and condemns Russian aggression, it takes a neutral position. A spokesman for the ruling Justice and Development Party said last week that “Turkey will use its discretion in the interests of peace rather than deepening the conflict.” “We certainly don’t want the tensions to escalate further.”
Turkey’s caution was shown when last weekend the Ukrainian embassy in Ankara posted a video on Twitter of Turkish drones bombing Russian forces. The embassy said 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in a Russian airstrike in Idlib two years ago. “Divine justice.” Although such images appealed to Turkish nationalists, the government was not satisfied with them. After a phone call from Ankara, the tweet in question was According to the Turkish newspaper, Deakin Deleted.
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