Turkey Takes First Step Towards Closing the Bosporus to Russia

File image courtesy Alexxx1979 / CC BY-SA 3.0

Published Feb 28, 2022 12:48 AM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday, Turkey's government began referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a "war," a designation that invokes its legal authority to close the Bosporus to warships.

"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," said Turkish presidential spokesperson in a social media message Sunday. "We will continue our efforts to help the people of Ukraine and end bloodshed in this unjust and unlawful war."

On the day the invasion began, Ukraine asked Turkey to exercise its right under the Montreux Convention to shut the strait to combatant vessels. On Friday, Turkey's foreign ministry said that the Convention does not allow it to close the Bosporus to Russian vessels that are returning to their home ports, and a closure would therefore not have an effect. 

Sunday's announcement appeared to mark a reversal of this policy. “It is not a couple of air strikes now, the situation in Ukraine is officially a war," said Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, in an interview on CNN Turkey. "We will implement the Montreux Convention."

The 1936 Montreux Convention grants Turkey jurisdiction over traffic on the Bosporus and the Dardanelles. In everyday operation, it restricts the movements of certain naval vessels into and out of the Black Sea - notably submarines and aircraft carriers. The convention also allows Turkey to close the waterway to military vessels during times of war. 

If the Turkish government exercises that authority, the effects may not be immediately felt in the conflict zone. Russia repositioned amphibious assault assets from its Baltic and Northern Fleets to the Black Sea in advance of the invasion, and its amphibious task force has reportedly been used to put troops ashore near Mariupol. Additional forces are on standby in the Eastern Mediterranean, including two Slava-class guided missile cruisers.

Top image: Alexxx1979 / CC BY-SA 3.0