Turkey to implement pact limiting Russian warships to Black Sea

Russian Navy’s diesel-electric submarine Rostov-on-Don sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Black Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey February 13, 2022. (Reuters photo)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — NATO member 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.

Kyiv had appealed to Ankara to block any more Russian ships from entering the Black Sea, from which Moscow launched an incursion on Ukraine’s southern coast, according to Reuters.

At least six Russian warships and a submarine transited Turkey’s straits this month.

“It is not a couple of air strikes now, the situation in Ukraine is officially a war… We will implement the Montreux Convention,” Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said in an interview with broadcaster CNN Turk, Reuters reported.

Balancing its Western commitments and close ties to Moscow, Ankara has in recent days called the Russian attack unacceptable but until Sunday had not described the situation in Ukraine as a war.

The rhetorical shift allows Turkey to enact the articles of the 1936 Montreux Convention that permits it to limit naval transit of its Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits during wartime, or if threatened.

Yet Cavusoglu reiterated that Turkey cannot block all Russian warships accessing the Black Sea due to a clause in the pact exempting those returning to their registered base.

“There should not be any abuse of this exemption. Ships that declare returning to their bases and passing through the straits should not be involved in the war,” Cavusoglu said.

Turkey has good ties with Russia and Ukraine. Even as NATO members have hit Moscow with sanctions, any step too far by Ankara could harm its heavy Russian energy imports, trade and tourism sector at a time of domestic economic turmoil.

Cavusoglu also said he spoke to both Ukrainian and Russian counterparts and was pleased to hear that two countries will hold negotiations.

Ibrahim Kalin, spokesperson for President Tayyip Erdogan, said earlier on Sunday: “On the fourth day of the Ukraine war, we repeat President Erdogan’s call for an immediate halt of Russian attacks and the start of ceasefire negotiations”.

Earlier, European nations and Canada moved to shut their airspace to Russian aircraft, an unprecedented step aimed at pressuring Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine, the biggest attack on a European state since World War Two.

Germany, Spain and France joined Britain, the Nordics and Baltic states in declaring bans on Russian use of their airspace, a major escalation in a tactic by mostly NATO allies to wage economic war against Putin in retaliation for the invasion.

The West, led by the United States, also unveiled sweeping new financial sanctions on Russia, which has called its assault on Ukraine a “special operation” to capture “neo-Nazis” who Putin says threaten Russia’s security – a charge Kyiv and Western governments say is baseless propaganda.

Russia is now widely expected to retaliate further against the air blockades and other sanctions. It has already responded to the earliest European airspace bans with its own edicts barring airlines from Britain, Bulgaria and Poland.

Without access to Russia’s airways, experts say carriers will have to divert flights south while also avoiding areas of tension in the Middle East – adding significant time and cost.

Nordic countries Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland also made similar announcements, following on from closures declared by Britain, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania. Baltic countries Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are also closing their airspace to Russian airliners.

(Esta Media Network/Reuters)

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