In December, the UK announced the delivery of two Royal Navy minehunter ships to Ukraine to boost Ukraine’s naval operations in its war against Russian aggression.
Turkey’s Presidency Directorate of Communications stated on January 2 that it would not allow two British minehunter vessels to enter its waters on their way to the Black Sea because it would breach an international treaty governing the passage of the straits during the Ukraine-Russia war.
Turkey notified country partners that it would not allow the vessels to use its Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits as long as the fighting in Ukraine is ongoing.
The decision to implement the Montreux Convention
When Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Turkey invoked the 1936 Montreux Convention, thereby barring the passage of the warring nations’ naval ships.
The treaty exempts ships returning to home bases, although neither Russia nor Ukraine have stated a desire to transit the Turkish straits to the Black Sea since the war began.
Warships of non-belligerent nations are permitted to pass the straits during times of war under the Montreux Convention. However, the pact also states that Ankara has the last say on the entry of any warships if Turkey supposes it is about to be drawn into a war.
Turkey also advised non-Black Sea powers not to bring warships through the passages.
According to the presidency, Turkey has implemented Montreux unbiased and methodically to avert tension in the Black Sea.
The impact of Turkey’s position
Despite the war between Ukraine and Russia, Ankara maintains relations with both countries.
Turkey’s decision to bar British minehunter vessels bound for Ukraine throws a potential wrench into the war-torn nation’s defense efforts and throws Turkey’s neutrality into question.
Kyiv and London are likely to express dismay, potentially straining diplomatic ties. The move could also limit the types of military aid Ukraine can receive, impacting its ability to clear the Black Sea waters of potentially lethal mines.
Meanwhile, Russia may view the decision as a diplomatic victory, but it could also spark legal challenges to Turkey’s interpretation of the Montreux Convention, which governs warship passage through its vital straits.