ANKARA (Reuters) – Under the international Montreux Convention, NATO member Turkey controls the passage of ships between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, making it a potentially key player in any military conflict between the Russia and Ukraine.
Earlier this month, six Russian warships and a submarine transited Turkey’s Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits toward the Black Sea for what Moscow called naval exercises near Ukrainian waters.
Here are the details of the pact and the controlling powers it grants Turkey, which neighbors Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Georgia on the Black Sea:
The Montreux Convention was signed in 1936 after Turkey, concerned about expansionist movements in the region, asked the signatories of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne for a change in the way the straits are policed. He said circumstances had changed and asked for full authority. After negotiations with world powers such as the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, France and others, it was agreed that Turkey would control the strait.
THE POWERS OF TURKEY
Under the agreement, Turkey controls the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles and the power to regulate the transit of warships. It also guarantees the free passage of civilian ships in times of peace and restricts the passage of ships not belonging to the Black Sea countries.
In times of war, Turkey is authorized to close the straits to all foreign warships or when threatened with aggression. It can also refuse transit to merchant ships from countries at war with Turkey and fortify the straits in case of conflict.
All non-Black Sea countries wishing to send ships must notify Turkey 15 days in advance, while Black Sea countries must give eight days’ notice.
Passage is limited to nine warships of a specific overall tonnage at any one time, with no vessel over 10,000 tons permitted to pass. Ships from a non-Black Sea country cannot exceed a total of 30,000 tons at any time, and ships are allowed to stay in the region for no more than 21 days. The Black Sea States can transit vessels of any tonnage.
Black Sea countries can send submarines across the strait with advance notice, as long as they were built, purchased, or sent for repair outside the Black Sea.
Civil aircraft may transit through routes authorized by the Turkish government. The deal does not contain restrictions on the passage of aircraft carriers, but Ankara says it controls that as well.
The 1994 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea prompted calls for a revision of Montreux. But Turkey is not a signatory to the deal due to its long-standing disputes with Greece, so the pact stuck.
Since tensions erupted over Ukraine, Turkish officials have said only that Montreux is instrumental in maintaining regional peace. They did not specify what position Turkey would take in the event of war.
President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would do what is necessary as a NATO ally if Russia invades, without giving further details. Turkey depends on Russia for energy and tourism and has forged close cooperation with Moscow in energy and defense in recent years.
In 2008, when Russia recognized the independence of the two Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Ankara rejected US demands to let its warships pass through the strait at a time when it was dependent on Russia for commodities and trade.
During World War II, the Montreux Agreement prevented the Axis powers from sending naval forces across the strait to attack the Soviet Union.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)