Bosphorus: Turkey rejects Russian request to sail through straits

Turkey rejects Russian request to sail through straits

Strait to the Black Sea

A Russian Navy patrol boat crosses the Bosphorus en route to the Russian fleet in the Black Sea. Photo: Emrah Gurel/AP/dpa

© dpa-infocom GmbH

Turkey maintains good relations with Kyiv and Moscow. In the war she has a special role, because she has sovereignty over the straits to the Black Sea.

The war in Ukraine will be for the NATO country Turkey to a balancing act. According to experts, the country is currently in a difficult situation, especially in its role as guardian of the straits between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

Now Turkey has rebuffed a Russian attempt to bring more warships through the Turkish Straits into the Black Sea. Moscow had submitted requests for passage for ships and withdrawn them after the Turkish side had asked them to do so, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in an interview with “Habertürk”. The inquiries were made on February 27th and 28th.

Russia made the request for ships, some of which are not registered in the Black Sea. According to international law, Turkey should refuse passage to warships belonging to parties at war. This currently applies to Russia and Ukraine. Exceptions apply to warships en route to their home ports. This and other scenarios are regulated in the Treaty of Montreux.

Low impact

In practice, the denial of passage has more of a symbolic character. For one, can Russia make use of the home port rule. On the other hand, Moscow has already brought numerous warships across the straits into the Black Sea in recent weeks. “Russia doesn’t need the Straits,” says Hüseyin Bagci, professor of international relations at ÖDTÜ University in Ankara. “The Black Sea fleet is powerful enough to totally destroy the Ukrainians.”

Turkey remains generally imprecise in its rhetoric – this could be intentional so as not to officially side with it. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned Russia’s invasion, but has so far tried to maintain a neutral stance. “Erdogan maintains relations with Russia and is in no way confrontational,” says Günter Seufert, head of the Center for Applied Turkish Studies (CATS) in Berlin. Turkey has not imposed any sanctions on Russia and, unlike Europe, has not closed its airspace. There are several reasons for that balancing actaccording to Seufert – among other things economic, but also the effort to make oneself independent of the West.

Like other countries, Turkey is economically dependent on Russian gas. In 2020, almost 34 percent of gas imports and around 65 percent of wheat imports came from Russia. A deterioration in relations could make imports more expensive. Turkey is already shaken by a currency crisis. Also in the Syrian war and in other conflicts in the region, Ankara is on good terms Moscow reliant.


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