Turkey banned UK-given warships to Ukraine from entering Black Sea

Polish international conflict news outlet, WarNewsPL, has reported via Twitter that the UK minesweepers provided to Ukraine are unable to make their way into the Black Sea. According to them, Turkey has imposed restrictions preventing these warships from entering the waterway via the Bosphorus Straits. 

“Turkey has notified its allies that it will not grant passage to the minesweepers that Britain donated to Ukraine, through the straits under Erdogan administration control,” states the Polish Twitter post. An extracted quote from the Turkish statement continues, “While the conflict persists, we will not facilitate the entrance of warships to the Black Sea via the Turkish Straits.”

Decision made in December

In December 2023, the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy decided to assign two of their minesweepers to Ukraine to augment its seafaring capabilities, according to a statement from the UK Defense Ministry. 

UK’s Defence Secretary Grant Shapps stated that the warships were intended to “reopen crucial export routes” that had been hindered ever since Russia initiated its invasion of Ukraine. 

Appearing on BBC One’s Breakfast, Shapps conveyed that these vessels would be instrumental in clearing out mines from the Black Sea, thus enhancing the fight against these obstacles. He also indicated that this move signaled an essential step in aiding Ukraine to develop a competent navy for the future, capable of safeguarding the country. 

Turkey banned UK-given warships to Ukraine from entering Black Sea
Photo credit: Twitter

Montreux Convention

In December, the British media had initially raised the issue that the Turks have now answered in the negative: How will the British military vessels manage to navigate through the Bosphorus to access the Black Sea? 

The underlying reason is steeped in the Montreux Convention which essentially bars Russian warships, not part of the Black Sea fleet, as well as any other nonparticipating vessels. The implication of this agreement is such that even Moscow presently cannot introduce more ships into the Black Sea.

Russia puts Resurs anti-aircraft weapon on Project 22160 warships
Photo credit: Wikipedia

1936 

The Montreux Convention, established back in 1936, delineates the legal framework surrounding the transit of commercial and military ships through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus Straits and the presence of naval vessels in the Black Sea.

The rules of the convention delineate between Black Sea powers, those with a coastline on the Black Sea, and non-Black Sea powers. In times of peace, warships from non-Black Sea countries have a maximum stint of 21 days in the sea. 

Turkey is interested in buying the Type 23 frigate from England
Photo credit: Royal Navy

This convention also stipulates tonnage limits for ships of non-Black Sea nations that can be present in the sea simultaneously. The tonnage cap is 45,000, with no single country having more than 30,000 tons. To illustrate this, the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, several of which have ventured into the sea in recent years, has a tonnage of about 9,000. 

Even though the convention does not explicitly ban aircraft carriers, a restrictive 15,000-ton limit for ships of non-Black Sea nations transiting the straits inherently forbids them. Additionally, submarines of non-Black Sea countries are not permitted. 

As the straits connecting the sea to the Mediterranean are under Turkey’s control, all foreign warships must notify Turkey in advance of their passage. This pre-emptive notification is required 15 days in advance for non-Black Sea nations and eight days for Black Sea countries. 

UK warship fired an Aster missile and killed a Houthi rebels UAV
Photo credit: Twitter

The Bosphorus is closed from 2022

In times of conflict, even if Turkey is not directly involved in the war, the convention gives it the authority to control the passage of warships to the Black Sea. There is one crucial stipulation: unless these ships are returning to their base. So, even British warships that have been donated are not based in the Black Sea. On February 28, 2022, four days after Russia attacked Ukraine, Turkey exercised its power according to the convention. 

“If Turkey is not engaged in the conflict, it retains the power to restrict the warships of the belligerent states from crossing the straits. However, if the warship is returning to its base in the Black Sea, the passage is not closed,” the foreign minister of Turkey stated. “All governments, whether riparian or non-riparian, were cautioned against sending warships through the straits.” 

The significance of Ankara’s invocation of the convention lies in the fact that it has prevented Russia from reinforcing its Black Sea fleet. As Britain’s defense minister Ben Wallace explained at the time, if Turkey were to permit passage through the straits, “the first thing you’ll observe is a notable naval boost from other sectors of the Russian fleet. This isn’t in the interest of Ukraine or us,” he mentioned during the Shangri-La Dialogue in June.

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