This post was published in Die Welt. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
BERLIN, (BM) – The presence of warships in the Bosphorus is strictly regulated and regulated by an international agreement – the Montreux Convention, writes the German newspaper Die Welt. The purpose of this treaty is to prevent the militarization of the Black Sea.
The agreement promotes stability in a region strategically important for Eastern Europe and the Middle East, the newspaper notes. The Bosphorus is the only strait that connects the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
However, now the military balance is in jeopardy, the author of the article emphasizes. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to dig a 45-kilometer canal through Istanbul, which will connect the two seas and become the second – artificial – Bosphorus. However, he will not obey any international restrictions and will give Turkey control over the movement of warships in the region.
Erdogan announced his intention to build the canal in 2011, when he was the Prime Minister of Turkey. Since then, the start of construction has been constantly delayed for financial and environmental reasons. But now the government has taken up the matter seriously. In February, the Turkish Minister of Transport and Infrastructure announced that the construction of the canal would begin later this year. In late March, despite the coronavirus pandemic, construction work was officially announced, provoking public outrage. Critics talked about how best to invest in the health system.
According to Die Welt, for Erdogan, the canal is a priority project, which should bring him not only benefits and prestige, but also geopolitical power. The Turkish president will not give up on his plan – he spoke about this quite often. In the case of the construction of the canal in Turkish territory, it will not be limited by any international rules. As a result, the Montreux Convention, which since 1936 regulates the movement of ships through the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus, will be canceled – at least in some areas, the German newspaper writes.
The current agreement guarantees civilian access to the Bosphorus in peacetime, the publication explains. It also limits the maximum number of foreign military vessels that can pass through the strait at the same time, up to nine, with a total displacement of up to 15 thousand tons. According to experts, these rules will not apply to the planned channel. In the end, for states with access to the Black Sea – such as Russia – other conditions are already in effect, the article says.
According to the Montreux Convention, warships of other states can remain in the Black Sea for a maximum of 21 days, and their total displacement should be no more than 30 thousand tons. In this regard, the new channel will not change anything, experts say. However, President Erdogan said in an interview with CNN in Turkey in January that the channel would be entirely outside the Montreux Convention. What exactly did he mean by this is unknown, the German newspaper continues.
“This is a game with fire, a potential hotbed of tension between two superpowers – Russia and the USA,” the author of the article emphasizes. The fact is that if American and other warships of NATO countries can freely pass through the channel and, thus, find themselves in close proximity to the Russian coast, the Kremlin can see this as a direct threat, the publication explains. Therefore, Russia is closely following the development of events.
“The danger of the channel lies in the fact that it calls into question all the rules that have been in force so far,” said Turkish blogger and warship photographer Jem Devrim Yailali. The project of the channel has conflicting potential, and the point is not only that it poses a threat to the military balance.
On the one hand, we are talking about money. It is unclear how expensive the construction of the canal will cost Turkey. Erdogan initially talked about about € 10 billion, but critics believe that it will take twice as much money. The Turkish government hopes for profit, because it can set high fees for passing through the canal – unlike traveling along the Bosphorus, for which the Montreux Convention does not allow Turkey to charge.
On the other hand, the canal increases the value of the land that will be on its shores. Already, land prices along the planned route are growing rapidly. There should be new settlements and even entire cities. The project will create jobs and can give hope to the Turkish economy.
Proponents of the construction of the canal claim that the Bosphorus is dangerously crowded. In fact, maritime traffic through the Bosphorus has declined by 20% over the past ten years. In addition, security measures improve over time, and the passage of the strait becomes safer. As for the various incidents at sea, they are associated not with high traffic load, but with technical malfunctions.
Meanwhile, particularly active disputes are being conducted over environmental damage, the German newspaper notes. Experts warn that the construction of the canal can destroy the balance of the ecosystem in the vicinity of Istanbul. Nevertheless, the project received official permission for environmental impact assessment back in January – although thousands of Istanbul residents opposed the construction of the canal.
One of the most famous opponents of the project is the mayor of Istanbul, opposition member Erkem Imamoglu. He calls the construction of the canal “betrayal” of the city and intends to prevent it at all costs. Thus, the project became an element of the struggle for power. Imamoglu is considered a rival of Erdogan, who should be taken seriously, and some even consider him a possible presidential candidate.
In February, the Istanbul administration filed a lawsuit against permitting an environmental review. Now, against the backdrop of the crisis with coronavirus, there was hope for critics of the project: in mid-May, a Istanbul court decided to allow an expert opinion on the planned channel route. Erdogan, these attempts at resistance, apparently, were not impressed. According to him, the project will be implemented, “whether they like it or not,” concludes Die Welt.
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