In a dramatic shift that could invite repercussions from Moscow, Turkey, a member of NATO with close ties to both Ukraine and Russia, has now called the Russia-Ukraine conflict a “war” — an indication that Turkey will move to block Russian warships from traversing the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits, according to a report in the Financial Times.
Speaking to CNN Turk, Turkey Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated, “At the beginning, what Russia was doing was an attack. We assessed it with experts, soldiers, lawyers. Now, this has turned into a war.”
It is more than a question of semantics. Under the 1936 Montreux Convention, which details how the channels that link the Black Sea and the Mediterranean are to be governed, Turkey can prevent warships belonging to “belligerent Powers” from crossing.
While no immediate closures of the straits have been announced, Cavusoglu pointed to the “extremely clear” Montreux Convention’s 19th article, which states:
“Vessels of war belonging to belligerent Powers shall not, however, pass through the Straits… Vessels of war belonging to belligerent Powers shall not make any capture, exercise the right of visit and search, or carry out any hostile act in the Straits.”
“Turkey had always implemented the Montreux agreement to the letter,” Cavusoglu said. “In these conditions, we will also implement the Montreux Convention.”
While the move does make a clear statement to Moscow, it may ultimately prove to be little more than a symbolic gesture, as Russia has already positioned a large fleet in the Black Sea. Additionally, an exception inthe 19th article states that “vessels of war belonging to belligerent Powers, whether they are Black Sea Powers or not, which have become separated from their bases, may return thereto” — a clause that will continue to allow Russian warships to return to their bases via the Straits.
Turkey’s decision to support Ukraine by closing the Straits was a matter of some confusion as late as Saturday.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared to have jumped the gun in thanking Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when he took to Twitter following a Saturday call to Erdogan, to express his gratitude.
“I thank my friend Mr. President of [Turkey] @RTErdogan and the people of [Turkey] for their strong support,” tweeted Zelenskyy. “The ban on the passage of [Russian] warships to the Black Sea and significant military and humanitarian support for [Ukraine] are extremely important today. The people of [Ukraine] will never forget that!”
The tweet rapidly gained more than 321,000 likes and nearly 50,000 re-tweets.
The only problem is, according to a report in the Middle East Eye, Erdogan had yet to agree to do any such thing.
“Turkey hasn’t made a decision to close the straits to Russian ships yet,” a Turkish official told the Eye.
But with the new acknowledgement that Russia and Ukraine are at war, it seems Erdogan is free to say, “You’re welcome.”
BREAKING- Turkey changed its rhetoric to call Russia's assault on Ukraine a "war" on Sunday and pledged to implement parts of an international pact that would potentially limit the transit of Russian warships from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.
— Phil Stewart (@phildstewart) February 27, 2022
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