Turkey is leading a regional mine clearance fleet in the Black Sea

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An anticipated tripartite agreement involving Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria is set to be formalized on January 11, in Istanbul. The Turkish military will spearhead a cooperative mission to demine the Black Sea, according to the terms of this agreement. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock/FOTOGRIN

In the face of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Black Sea has emerged as an essential and exclusive maritime route for the exportation of Ukrainian grain. It’s crucial to note that this trade provides financial sustenance for Ukraine’s homefront defense operations in the war against Russia. 

While all three participating nations are NATO members, it’s crucial to understand that this Black Sea demining operation doesn’t fall under NATO’s purview. From the expert’s perspective, these are proactive measures taken by the three Baltic nations, all vested with extensive Black Sea access, to safeguard commercial maritime routes. 

Significantly, Turkey doesn’t permit warships from other NATO nations to penetrate the Black Sea via the Bosphorus. Turkey’s rationale, as the ‘keeper of the Bosphorus key’, is to prevent fueling the already tense relations between NATO and Russia, especially at a time when a war is raging along one of the Black Sea coasts.

Turkey closed the Bosphorus

The last time Turkey flexed its maritime authority was when it discovered that Britain intended to gift two minesweepers to Ukraine. Even though the primary destination of these minesweepers was not Ukraine, Turkey used its jurisdiction over the Black Sea to bar their entry. This also pertains to Russia’s inability to reinforce its Black Sea Fleet. Turkey has denied access to Russian warships from the Baltic Fleet to enter the Black Sea. 

Various European publications have highlighted that trade routes in the Black Sea have been heavily mined since the inception of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. As outlined by BulgarianMilitary.com, the Russian military launched an incursion into Ukraine on February 21, 2022. Moscow labels this as a “special military operation”, strategically avoiding the term ‘war’, even though the situation on the ground implies just that.

Mines threaten non-combatant states

Currently, the presence of active mines in the Black Sea not only obstructs trade routes and curtails the export of Ukrainian grain, but it also poses a significant threat to Romania and Bulgaria. Although these nations are not currently engaged in any conflict, they are inextricably linked to the region via the Black Sea. The situation is serious, as these non-combatant nations are inadvertently drawn into dangerous geopolitical currents. 

This is where the joint demining operation in the Black Sea, undertaken by the three Balkan nations, becomes pivotal. This operation provides a potent opportunity for Romania to utilize its newest assets in the realm of defense, namely, the two minesweepers HMS Blythe and HMS Pembroke, acquired from Great Britain in 2021. 

These state-of-the-art vessels were procured even before the escalation of warfare. The Romanian government, as the new steward, has seamlessly integrated these ships into its fleet. This integration permits the mine sweepers unrestricted ingress and egress from the Black Sea, owing to their new home ports in Romania. Therefore, it is highly likely that Bucharest will secure the necessary permissions from Ankara for these ships’ passage through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea. 

Exclusive sovereign rights

On July 20, 1936, the Treaty of Montreux was signed, setting in stone the regulations concerning the right to close the strait. This historic pact gave Turkey exclusive sovereign jurisdiction over the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus, it also addressed international transit rights and gave Turkey the power to close the strait during times of war. 

The nations that left their mark on this treaty include Turkey, Great Britain, France, Japan, USSR, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and Yugoslavia. Two years later, in 1938, Italy also decided to become part of this monumental agreement.

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