МОСКВА, 04 августа 2021, Институт РУССТРАТ.
In the Russian mass media and Telegram Canals, there was another wave of publications and discussions about the impact of the Turkish project for the construction of the “Istanbul” shipping canal, duplicating the Bosphorus Strait, on the situation in the Black Sea and the possible complication of the situation for Russia in the future.
The main concern is that the “Istanbul” Canal will make the Montreux Convention meaningless, and warships of non-Black Sea states, including those belonging to NATO, will be able to pass through it without the restrictions established by this convention.
The increased interest in this issue was caused by an interview of RIA Novosti with the senior adviser to the Turkish president Mücahit Küçükyılmaz, in which he said the following: “It is wrong to link the Montreux Convention with the new ‘Istanbul’ canal. The Montreux Convention was developed in 1936, when the topic of straits was in the foreground. The Convention is not related to the new waterway that will be opened. I think that this is a separate topic. This situation will not become an obstacle for the passage of ships of any country in the near future.
Compared to the old waterway, the ‘Istanbul’ Canal is wider, it will allow more ships to pass, they will pass safely, it will provide an alternative route for ships. The canal will be an advantage not only for Turkey, but also for the Black Sea countries and those who use the straits.”
In principle, Mücahit Küçükyılmaz did not say anything new. On April 14, 2021, Turkish President Recep Erdogan himself made the same statement: “The ‘Istanbul’ canal has no connection with the Montreux Convention. This canal will be an achievement for us, it will help to seriously relieve the Bosphorus Strait from the point of view of environmental protection.” In December 2019, the Turkish president also stated that sea traffic through the canal would not fall under the Montreux Convention.
Ankara is already making it clear to everyone at the construction stage that navigation along the “Istanbul” Canal will be regulated by domestic Turkish legislation.
To understand this issue, it is necessary to carefully read the text of the Montreux Convention itself. The preamble to the Convention on the Regime of the Straits (Montreux, 1936) contains the following phrase: “passage and navigation in the Dardanelles Strait, in the Sea of Marmara and in the Bosphorus, embraced by the general definition of ‘Straits’”.
It should be noted that a ship or a warship going from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, in order to get into the “Istanbul” Canal, will first have to pass the Dardanelles Strait, where all the provisions of the Convention on the Regime of the Straits remain in effect. By the very fact of entering the Dardanelles, the vessel (warship) is already subject to the provisions of this document.
A number of experts talk about the risks that will arise for Russia if Turkey builds a second canal after the “Istanbul” Canal, which will duplicate the Dardanelles Strait. Again we return to the text of the Convention on the Regime of Straits (Montreux, 1936), and again we read the preamble of the document: “passage and navigation in the Dardanelles Strait, in the Sea of Marmara and in the Bosphorus, embraced by the general definition of ‘Straits’”.
Let’s assume that this second canal has already been built. Having bypassed the Dardanelles Strait along it, a ship (a warship) going from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea enters the Sea of Marmara, where all the provisions of the Convention on the Regime of the Straits remain in effect. And by the very fact of entering the Sea of Marmara, the vessel (warship) again obeys the provisions of this document.
We must pay tribute to the authors of the text of the Convention on the Regime of the Straits. Key points of the document: the phrase – “in the Sea of Marmara”, as well as the general definition of “Straits” – “in the Dardanelles Strait, in the Sea of Marmara and in the Bosphorus”. We look at the map: it is impossible to get from the Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, bypassing the Sea of Marmara.
In addition, this convention contains Section II “Warships”, which establishes serious restrictions for the military fleets of “Powers that are not negligent to the Black Sea”. For example, paragraph 2 of article 18 of the Convention states: “Whatever the purpose of their stay in the Black Sea, warships of non-coastal powers may not stay there for more than twenty-one days.”
Article 14 of the Convention states that “the total maximum tonnage of all vessels of foreign maritime detachments that may be in transit through the Straits should not exceed 15,000 tons.”
Article 18 of the Convention limits the total tonnage of warships that Powers not coastal to the Black Sea can have in this sea in peacetime. The total tonnage of these powers should not exceed 30,000 tons, in some cases it can be increased up to a maximum figure of 45,000 tons.
Thus, neither the “Istanbul” Canal under construction, duplicating the Bosphorus Strait, nor its purely theoretically potential “brother”, duplicating the Dardanelles Strait, from a legal point of view, will in any way allow Ankara to circumvent the provisions of the Convention on the Regime of Straits (Montreux, 1936).
Long before the completion of the construction of the “Istanbul” Canal, it is necessary to convey to Turkey in an official document the position of Russia based on the legal analysis of the Convention on the Regime of the Straits (Montreux, 1936). And it is better to do it right now, so that Ankara does not have any legal illusions in the future. This official document should also be available to the general public.
Of course, it is possible that with the appearance of a new waterway in the face of the “Istanbul” Canal, Turkey may try to interpret the Convention on the Regime of the Straits in a different way, and perhaps even ignore a number of its provisions. And in this situation, however, as in any other, one will not get far on international law alone.
It is necessary to have the power to ensure that your interests are respected. This fully applies to the situation with these straits. Russia must be strong militarily, politically and economically. Therefore, it is necessary to have various levers of influence on Turkey in advance, so that in the future it will not have a desire to circumvent the provisions of the Convention on the Regime of the Straits (Montreux, 1936).
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Институт международных политических и экономических стратегий Русстрат