The Turkish foreign minister has said Turkey cannot stop Russian warships accessing the Black Sea via its straits, as Ukraine has requested, due to a clause in an international pact.
Ukraine has appealed to Turkey to block Russian warships from passing through the Dardanelles and Bosphorus Straits which lead to the Black Sea, after Moscow on Thursday launched a full-blown assault on Ukraine from land, air and sea.
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Russian forces landed at Ukraine’s Black and Azov Sea ports as part of the invasion.
Turkey has control over the straits under the 1936 Montreux Convention, and can limit the passage of warships during wartime or if threatened. However, the request has put the NATO member in a difficult position as it tries to manage its Western commitments and close ties with Russia.
Speaking in Kazakhstan on Thursday, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was studying Kyiv’s request but said Russia had the right under the Convention to return ships to their home base, in this case, the Black Sea.
If Turkey decided after a legal process to accept Ukraine’s request and close the straits to Russian warships, he said, they would only be prevented from travelling in the other direction, away from their home base into the Mediterranean.
“If countries involved in the war make a request to return their vessels to their bases, that needs to be allowed,” the Hurriyet newspaper quoted Cavusoglu as saying.
Cavusoglu added that Turkish legal experts were still trying to determine whether the conflict in Ukraine could be defined as a war, which would allow the convention mandates to be invoked.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey, Vasyl Bodnar, said on Friday Kyiv was expecting a “positive response” from Ankara to its request.
Cavusoglu also reiterated Ankara’s opposition to imposing economic sanctions against Russia, a stance that has set Turkey apart from most of its NATO allies which have already announced such measures.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticised Western countries on Friday for giving “ample advice” without the determination to match.
Speaking to reporters hours before he was due to take part in a virtual NATO summit, Erdogan said the alliance should have taken a “more decisive” stance over the Russian aggression against Ukraine.
Turkey has close ties to both Russia and Ukraine.
In an address to an international gathering in Ankara on Thursday, Erdogan said Turkey “sincerely regrets” that the two countries are confronting each other.