Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria have signed an agreement to clear mines drifting in the Black Sea that have posed a threat to shipping since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
On Thursday, Turkish Defence Minister Yasar Guler said the deal establishes a Mine Countermeasures Task Group among the three NATO allies to deal with the mines as he met in Istanbul with his Romanian counterpart, Angel Tilvar, and Bulgarian Deputy Defence Minister Atanas Zapryanov.
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Zapryanov said mines pose a “danger to ports, communication networks and key water infrastructure” while Tilvar added that Russia’s “disdain for the norms of international law and its aggression in the Black Sea is not only a regional problem but also a problem with global consequences”.
Sea mines have posed a threat to Ukraine’s Black Sea export routes since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, and several commercial ships have been hit, including a bulk carrier heading to a Danube River port to load grain in December.
Ukraine has two main ports on the Danube – Reni and Izmail – which have become central to the country’s grain exports since Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and Moscow’s withdrawal in July from a United Nations-backed agreement that had allowed grain shipments safe passage across the Black Sea.
Three minehunting ships from each country and one command-control ship will be assigned to the initiative, a Turkish Ministry of National Defence official said.
The initiative is open to only the three countries, whose naval commanders will form a committee to run the operation, Guler said, adding that it might include other Black Sea states after the war ends.
Last week, Turkey said it would not allow two minehunter vessels donated to Ukraine by Britain to transit its waters en route to the Black Sea because it would violate the 1936 Montreux Convention, an international pact concerning wartime passage of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles strait.
At the start of the Ukraine war, Turkey enacted the convention to block the passage of Russian or Ukrainian ships through the two straits and also told non-Black Sea states not to send warships.
Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for stray mines that have washed up along Black Sea coasts.