What does the Montreux Convention entail and how could its implementation affect the war between Russia and Ukraine?
- Turkey is set to implement an international convention on naval passage through two of its strategic straits, which would allow them to limit the movement of Russian warships between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.
- Turkey’s foreign minister said on Sunday that the situation in Ukraine had become a war, a declaration that authorises Ankara to activate the Montreux Convention and ban Russian war vessels from entering the Black Sea through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits.
- Turkey will implement all provisions of Montreux Convention in a transparent manner.
- The decision comes three days after Kyiv had asked Ankara to close the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits to Russian ships.
The only passage to the Black Sea
- The Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, also known as the Turkish Straits or the Black Sea Straits, connect the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea via the Sea of Marmara.
- It is the only passage through which the Black Sea ports can access the Mediterranean and beyond.
- Over three million barrels of oil, about three per cent of the daily global supply, mostly produced in Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan, pass through this waterway every day.
- The route also ships large amounts of iron, steel, and agricultural products from the Black Sea coast to Europe and the rest of the world.
What is Montreux Convention?
- According to the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, often referred to simply as the Montreux Convention, Turkey has control over both the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits.
- The Montreux Convention regulates maritime traffic through the Black Sea. It guarantees “complete freedom” of passage for all civilian vessels during peacetime and permits Turkey to restrict the passage of navies not belonging to Black Sea states.
- In the event of a war, the pact gives Ankara the right to regulate the transit of naval warships and to block the straits to warships belonging to the countries involved in the conflict.
Could Turkey block Russian warships?
- Russia’s location on the Black Sea complicates the situation.
- Article 19 of the treaty contains an exception for the countries on the Black Sea that can effectively undermine Turkey’s power in blocking the Russian warships entering or exiting the Black Sea:
- “Vessels of war belonging to belligerent powers, whether they are Black Sea Powers or not, which have become separated from their bases, may return thereto,”
- That means warships can return to their original bases through the passage and Turkey cannot prevent it.
- The official assignment of a ship to a port determines whether it has the right to pass through the Straits or not.
- The official assignment, according to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) falls under the authority of the state that owns the ships.
- Therefore, another possible way for Russia to exploit the Montreux Convention, would be to reassign some of its vessels to the Black Sea.
No immediate impact, but long term consequences
- The extensive freedom that Russia enjoys due to its location on the Black Sea casts doubts on whether invoking the pact will have significant military consequences on the ongoing conflict.
- According to the treaty, vessels that Russia decides to bring into the Black Sea or take out, will have to remain there until the end of the war. In addition, “warships, including auxiliary vessels, not currently in the Black Sea and not traditionally based there, absolutely may not enter the Black Sea.
- Closing the Straits might never have a military impact in the Russo-Ukrainian War. But it is Turkey’s unique way of punishing Russia for its crime of aggression and showing commitment to international law.
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