Turkey says it has locked Russian warships out of the Black Sea ahead of an expected assault on Ukrainian cities. At the same time Ukraine says it is getting more Turkish drones, despite warnings from Moscow. Turkish-Russian ties are facing a critical test.
Ankara claims four Russian warships have withdrawn their request to enter the Black Sea through Turkish waterways. The announcement follows Turkey’s curtailing of Russian naval vessels’ use of Istanbul’s Bosporus waterway, the only access to the Black Sea.
Under the 1936 Montreux Convention, Ankara can stop Russian naval ships from using the waterway after it declared on Sunday that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a “war.”
Mesut Casin, an advisor to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says Turkey intends to strictly enforce naval access to the Black Sea under the convention.
“We will very clearly, very sensitively, and objectively apply the Montreux regime. Russians should be thinking about this. Why? We showed this position in World War II; we stopped the German ships, the Italian ships even the Soviet-armed ships,” he said.
Ankara’s strict enforcement of the convention appears to have denied any wiggle room for Moscow to access its waiting destroyers and a frigate. Among them is one of Russia’s most advanced and modern warships that carries cruise missiles.
The ships were expected to join a fleet of warships already massed outside the Ukrainian city of Odessa, ahead of an expected assault. In addition, Kyiv’s announcement Wednesday that Turkish-made armed drones will be delivered is likely to irk Moscow further. Turkish defense analyst Arda Mevlutoglu says the drones pose a threat to Russian forces.
“A single armed drone equipped with a couple of bombs may destroy a whole air defuse battery or a very expensive electronic warfare system or take out some armed vehicles etc.,” he said.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry has posted videos of Turkish-made drones targeting Russian forces. Last week, Moscow warned countries supplying Ukraine with weapons they would be held responsible for losses. Ankara has not commented on Ukrainian claims of a new drone delivery.
Turkey, while a NATO member, has close ties with Russia. But Erdogan has strongly criticized Russia’s Ukraine invasion. Asli Aydintasbas, a senior fellow at the Council of Europe, says the diplomatic stakes are high for Turkish diplomacy.
“This will be a balancing act for Turkey,” she said. “Clearly, the defense aid may happen but not at the level that would irritate Russia, So Turkey will push it enough but stop when it becomes existentially important to Russia. In order to prevent them from retaliating in Syria or with natural gas.”
Turkey imports more than 90% of its energy and Russia is one of its main suppliers. At the same time, analysts say Ankara is pressing Moscow to use its influence to keep Damascus from moving in on the last rebel holdouts in Idlib, along Syria’s border with Turkey — an action that could trigger a new flow of refugees into Turkish territory.