Turkey is calling on all sides in the Ukraine crisis to respect an international pact on passage through the Turkish straits to the Black Sea, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar was cited as saying by Reuters on Tuesday after Ankara closed access to warships.
NATO ally Turkey borders Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good ties with both. Under the 1936 Montreux Convention, Ankara has the right to limit transit through its straits during wartime.
This allows it to block Russian warships from transiting the straits to the Black Sea. The pact grants exemption to ships returning to their home bases.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was cited by state media as saying that Turkey had demanded all Black Sea and non-Black Sea states halt the passage of warships through its straits.
“Eroding Montreux or disrupting the status quo in any way is to nobody’s benefit. We see a benefit in preserving Montreux. We tell all sides that it would be beneficial to abide by Montreux,” Akar told reporters after Monday’s cabinet meeting, his ministry said.
In a call on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “expressed his appreciation” to Çavuşoğlu for Turkey’s implementation of the accord, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
At least four Russian ships are waiting to transit from the Mediterranean.
While calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an unacceptable violation of international law, Turkey has carefully formulated its rhetoric so as to not offend Moscow, with which Ankara has close ties in energy, defense and tourism. It has called for dialogue and offered to host peace talks.
Late on Monday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko about ceasefire talks between Russia and Ukraine on Belarus’ border, his office said.
“We are determined to use the powers the Montreux Convention grants our country to ease the crisis,” Erdogan said after the cabinet meeting. “We will surely not compromise on our national interests, but we will also not disregard regional and global balances. This is why we cannot abandon ties with Russia or Ukraine.”
While forging close ties with Russia, Turkey has also sold drones to Ukraine 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.
“Turkey is really doing its best, or you can see it bends over backwards not to offend Russia,” Işık said.