Turkey warned Moscow to avoid further escalation after a Turkish-owned cargo vessel was fired at and boarded by the Russian navy last weekend, Agence France-Presse reported, citing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s office on Thursday.
“After the [Russian] intervention, our interlocutors in the Russian Federation were warned appropriately to avoid such attempts, which escalate tensions in the Black Sea,” the Turkish presidency said, breaking a days-long silence over the incident.
The Şükrü Okan was flying the flag of Palau when it was fired at by the Russian navy last Sunday.
📌”Rus askeri Türk gemisi Şükrü Okan’a baskın yaptı, Türk hükümeti tepki göstermedi” şeklindeki iddialar manipülasyon içermektedir. pic.twitter.com/p2BzOgxdYP
— Dezenformasyonla Mücadele Merkezi (@dmmiletisim) August 17, 2023
Russian military personnel then boarded the ship to conduct an inspection, before letting it sail on toward the Ukrainian port of Izmail — the main export route for Ukrainian agricultural products.
The incident came during a spike in Black Sea region attacks that followed Russia’s decision to withdraw from a landmark Ukrainian grain deal last month.
Turkey helped broker the UN-backed agreement, using its good relations with both Moscow and Kyiv to help strike the only major deal reached by the sides during the war.
But Erdoğan’s office came under criticism at home for saying nothing about the Russian attack.
Erdoğan’s office pushed back against its critics on Thursday, arguing that it was technically up to Palau to respond to the incident.
“Even if the owner of the Şükrü Okan vessel is Turkish, the ship is not Turkish flagged,” it said.
“Under international law, it is the ‘flag state’ that is more important than the name of the ship or the [nationality] of its personal.”
Palau is a Pacific archipelago whose flag is often used by shipping companies to freely access international ports.