Turkey’s foreign ministry has signalled that it intends to block Russian warships from passing through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits that lead to the Black Sea, a shift in Turkey’s formerly neutral position where officials underlined alliances with both Russia and Ukraine.
“We came to the conclusion that the situation in Ukraine has turned into a war,” said Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. “We will apply the Montreux provisions transparently.”
Turkey controls both straits under the Montreux convention, granting it the power to block the passage of Russian and Ukrainian warships, providing they are not returning to their permanent bases in the Black Sea.
The convention means the straits can be blocked if a conflict meets the definition of a war.
The blocking will likely affect a number of Russian vessels currently in the Mediterranean Sea, including submarines and frigates, some of which belong to Black Sea fleets. A block means that Russian warships will not be able to transit the straits to either provide reinforcements to existing forces or to leave and return in order to assist forces in their invasion of Ukraine.
Turkish maritime analyst Yörük Isik pointed to satellite imagery showing at least 16 vessels in the Mediterranean. “What we see are 16 ships, some of them are Black Sea fleet ships. They might have some additional assets including replenishment tankers or small patrol crafts near Tartus but these are the most meaningful assets,” he said.
Çavuşoğlu’s remarks about the closure of the straits also signalled a shift in Turkish policy that until now has carefully tried to balance its NATO commitments and alliance with Ukraine in tandem with its energy and security dependency on Russia.
Turkey’s position has shifted rapidly over the weekend, including remarks earlier today from president Erdogan’s chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin, who said “we will continue our efforts to help the people of Ukraine and end bloodshed in this unjust and unlawful war.” Until now, Turkish officials had chosen their words carefully, primarily using terms such as “military operation.”
Turkey’s move to close the straits is a signal that its current foreign policy is prioritising Europe and its Nato commitments over its long-term ties to Russia.
“Turkey has a dependency on Russia, not only on energy like some European countries, but also their security situation. There must be fears within the authority that Russia could green-light an attack by the [Syrian] regime on Idlib,” said Sinan Ülgen, of the Turkish thinktank the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies. He was referring to the province in northern Syria controlled by opposition forces including jihadists, with a Turkish presence to deter Russian and Syrian attacks.