ANKARA: Turkish govt said that Russia has cancelled a bid to send four of its warships through Turkish waters into the Black Sea at Turkey’s request.
On Monday, Ankara said its Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits have been closed under a 1936 pact since the early days of the violence in Ukraine.
A NATO member and neighbour of Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, Turkey has good ties with both and adopted cautious rhetoric on the crisis following the Russian forces’ invasion last week.
Under the Montreux Convention, Turkey has control over the straits that connect the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and can limit the passage of warships during wartime or if threatened. The pact exempts vessels returning to their bases.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told national broadcaster Haberturk late on Tuesday that Turkey had asked Russia not to send its ships through before it labelled Moscow’s invasion a “war” on Sunday, legally allowing it to curb passages under the convention.
“Russia has said four of its ships would cross the straits on February 27-28, three of which are not registered to bases in the Black Sea,” Cavusoglu said.
“We told Russia not to send these ships and Russia said the vessels would not cross the straits,” he also said, adding that Turkey informed the states that are party to the pact on the development.
“Nobody should be offended by this because the Montreux Convention is valid today, yesterday and tomorrow, so we will implement it,” the foreign minister said.
Western media said earlier this week that at least four Russian ships – two destroyers, a frigate and an intelligence vessel – were waiting on Turkey’s decision to cross from the Mediterranean. Two of them, a frigate and a destroyer, had asked to make the journey this week.
The United States “expressed appreciation” for Turkey’s move to close the straits. Ukraine’s ambassador to Ankara said Kyiv was “grateful” to Turkey for “meticulously” implementing the pact.
The Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits connect the Aegean (part of the Mediterranean), Marmara (Turkey’s inland sea), and the Black Sea, the latter from which Russia launched an incursion on Ukraine’s southern coast.
While calling Russia’s invasion an unacceptable violation of international law, Turkey has carefully formulated its rhetoric not to offend Moscow, with which it has close energy, defence and tourism relations. It has called for dialogue and offered to host peace talks.
Cavusoglu repeated on Tuesday that Turkey would not join its Western allies in imposing economic sanctions on Russia.
While forging close cooperation with Russia, Turkey has also sold drones to Kyiv and signed a deal to co-produce more, angering Moscow. It also opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya, as well as its 2014 annexation of Crimea. Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Wednesday the country was set to receive another shipment of Turkish drones, a move likely to anger Russia.