10:44 GMT +3 hours28 June 2016
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Russian Navy's large landing ship Korolev sails in the Bosphorus, on its way to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2015

Turkey Has No Legal, Economic Basis to Close Bosphorus for Russian Ships

© REUTERS/ Murad Sezer
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Tensions between Russia and Turkey over the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber in Syria may challenge freedom of navigation through the Bosphorus Strait, a major pathway for Russian ships. However, a Turkish unilateral ban on the passage of Russian ships is unlikely since it would violate international law.

A day after the Russian Su-24 bomber was shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border Russia deployed S-400 air defenses to the Hmeymim air base in Syria in response.

In recent months, Russia’s heavy military equipment has been delivered to Syria mostly by sea, with the shortest route coming through the Bosphorus Strait and the Dardanelles.

A sharp rise in tensions between Moscow and Ankara may challenge the delivery of Russian weapons and troops through the straits. If passage is prohibited for Russia there is still the way through the Gibraltar (which takes 13-14 days rather than four days through the Bosphorus) or by air.

The passage of civilian and naval ships through the Bosphorus Strait and the Dardanelles is controlled by the 1936 Montreux Convention on the Regime of the Straits. According to Article 2, "merchant vessels shall enjoy complete freedom of transit and navigation in the Straits, by day and by night, under any flag and with any kind of cargo, without any formalities."

If Turkey is being belligerent it must give passage to civil vessels of friendly and neutral nations, but only at night and along the navigation way indicated by Ankara. If Turkey is not being belligerent but considers itself "to be threatened with imminent danger of war" all vessels must enter the Straits, day and night, by the route indicated by the authorities.

As for naval warships, in time of peace Turkey must give passage to small and middle vessels belonging to all nations. Black Sea powers (including formerly the USSR and now Russia) can navigate their warships of any class through the Straits, "on condition that these vessels pass through the Straits singly, escorted by not more than two destroyers."

In times of war, the passage of warships shall be left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish government, according to the document.

From a legal perspective, Turkey has no legal grounds to create obstacles for Russian vessels carrying cargo, including military cargo, Russian lawyer Vladimir Morkovkin told RBK. Turkey can ban non-friendly vessels from navigating through the Straits only if at war, the expert explained.

After World War II, Ankara made several efforts to gradually strengthen its control over the Straits. In 1982, Turkey tried to unilaterally expand the regime of the Istanbul port over the entire area of the Straits. The decision was harshly criticized by neighboring countries, and Turkey stepped back.

In December 1982, the UN elaborated the Convention on the Law of the Sea, but Turkey refused to join it and the Montreux convention remained in force. In 1994, Turkey unilaterally adopted new Maritime Traffic Regulations for the Straits, with a number of restrictions for the passage of foreign vessels.

"Thanks to the Montreux Convention, and then to friendly relations with Britain and the US Turkey has taken control over the Straits," Andre Gerolymatos, head of the Center for Hellenic Studies in Canada, told RBK.

"This control directly depends on the status-quo of the Montreux Convention itself. As for now the US and Turkey have the same interests in the region, and Washington is ready to back the document."

"In its relations with Russia Turkey has always pushed its own interests first. The core of Russian-Turkish cooperation is tourism and energy. There are a number of unsolved energy problems between the two countries. Ankara is trying to restrict the oil transit through the Straits for Russian tankers," analyst Alexander Vasiliev, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, wrote back in 2010.

According to the Russian Ministry of Transport, in 2013, 74,300 vessels crossed the Straits in both directions. In 2015, the cargo turnover of the ports of the Azov and Black Seas has increased by 5.2 percent, against the previous year. According to Russia’s Transneft Company, 24.6 million tons of Russian oil were exported via Black Sea terminals in 2014.

Russian cargo is protected not only by the Convention but also by the fact that only a few operators work under the Russian flag.

"There is no reason to be worried now, and transportation routes are not to be changed," an anonymous source from a Russian chemical company told RBK.

Related:
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Russian Official Slams 'Coward' Countries for Ignoring Turkey's Aggression
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tensions, military, trade, Bosphorus, Turkey, Russia
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  • Selectric Typeball
    It looks like Turkey is a strategic partner to many different sides here?
  • If Turkey is being belligerent it must give passage to civil vessels of friendly and neutral nations, but only at night and along the navigation way indicated by Ankara. If Turkey is not being belligerent but considers itself "to be threatened with imminent danger of war" all vessels must enter the Straits, day and night, by the route indicated by the authorities.
    --
    This is like a set of suggestions for Erdogan and I'm wondering why I am reading them on Sputnik.
  • in reply toSelectric Typeball(Show commentHide comment)
    Selectric Typeball, Just NATO. NATO is the disease, truth is the cure.
  • Vladislav Sotirovic
    Russia has human, legal and moral rights to close Bosphorus for all ships to enter the Black Sea
  • poofipoofipoofi
    I doubt the illegality of closing the straits would keep Erdogan up at night.
  • DR. EVILin reply toVladislav Sotirovic(Show commentHide comment)
    Vladislav Sotirovic, turcima je izlaz na crno more nepotreban a rusima je urgentno potreban to je kao kada bi ste I'm zazidali vrata na kuci pa bi morali kroz prozore da izlaze -zato od rata I sukoba nema nista izgubili su juzni tok,gasni protok preko ukrajine I sada turski tok polako bivaju odseceni od evrope ekonomski I trgovinski -srpska formula propasti koju smo mi iskusili ali oni misle da to nemoze njima da se desi a vec I'm se desava
  • Vladislav Sotirovicin reply toDR. EVIL(Show commentHide comment)
    DR. EVIL, Турцима није али каубојима јесте. Ракете лете и кроз врата и кроз прозоре. Треба само да се притисне дугме
  • DR. EVILin reply toVladislav Sotirovic(Show commentHide comment)
    Vladislav Sotirovic, tesko rusi nikako nece uci u sukob sa NATO a nato I'm zatvara slavine svuda zato I komentarisem ovde jer njihova naivnost I prostodusnost poput nase I to ce ih unistiti -eno ga Putin pregovara sa olandom a onaj ga zajebao za MISTRALE I uveo mu sankcije prosto neverovatno kakve greske prave
  • Vladislav Sotirovicin reply toDR. EVIL(Show commentHide comment)
    DR. EVIL, Питање да ли су грешке. Путина је довео Јељцин а овога Горби. А ко је био Горби и за кога је радио познато је
  • jaodernein
    So, this was the reason of Turkey treason since the beginning?

    1)-Turkey shoot down a Russian plane and Russia retails with a military operation
    2)- Turkey declares the state of war
    3). the Montreux Convention allows Turkey to blockade Bosphorus when the state of war is declared: in consequence, all civilian and military ships of Russia heading to the Mediterranean are trapped in the Black Sea

    I wonder if this was the NATO plan, and if it was, Putin didn't bite
  • in reply tojaodernein (Show commentHide comment)
    jaodernein, If turkey close that Bosphorus this is really over for mini erdogan..and it could be the start for a civil war.
  • in reply tojaodernein (Show commentHide comment)
    jaodernein, Turkey cannot state a declaration of war. Russia did not fall into it's clumsy trap.
    My guess is Russia will wait, discuss, do international diplomacy, let the whole world see what ridiculous policy is unfolding.
    Closing the Bosphorus and the Hormuz cutting off the Black Fleet could be the most dangerous card, even an act of war.
    Fools at the helm, here. They have no legal standing to do so...and there is SO much Russia could do economically in response, that is just now becoming clearer.
    Turkey better wake up; they hold the loosing hand.
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