Tensions between Russia and Ukraine in Black Sea worry Ankara, in a balancing act since the start of the conflict.
While Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of laying mines in the Black Sea, it becomes a collateral victim of the conflict. The Turkish Ministry of Defense announced on April 6 that teams of Turkish army divers had detonated a floating naval mine in the Black Sea, the third of its type discovered in its waters since the start of the Russian invasion. from Ukraine.
A situation of tension which worries the Turkish authorities, concerned about the supremacy of Russia on this inland sea. “With the war north of the Black Sea, production and supply chains have faced new threats,” President Erdogan said on Tuesday, as he claimed Turkey was on the way to becoming the “ logistics superpower spanning a vast geography stretching from London to Beijing, from Siberia to South Africa”. This is not the first time that the Turkish head of state has expressed his concerns about the waters whose shore he shares with five other countries. “The Black Sea has almost become a Russian lake,” he lamented in 2016, while pleading for the development of a joint Bulgarian-Romanian-Turkish fleet.
Six years later, Turkey has asserted itself as the only power capable of standing up to the Russian fleet. A fundamental counterweight to Moscow’s expansionism – because if Russia manages to take control of Odessa, it will dominate the northern Black Sea unchallenged. And Ukraine, then cut off from this maritime access, will become a landlocked country. “The current situation is reminiscent of the Crimean War, which pitted the Russian Empire from 1853 to 1856 against a coalition made up of the Ottoman Empire, the French Empire and the United Kingdom. Of course, none of these countries is currently actively engaged in the conflict, but they offer their material support to Ukraine”, analyzes the president of the Council for International Relations of Turkey, Mustafa Aydin. The conflict, centered around the naval base of Sevastopol, had ended in a failure of the Russian empire.
“Any action by Russia since the Cold War has affected the stability of the Black Sea,” recalls the researcher. Since the late 1990s, international maritime cooperation programs – including the Blackseafor program, led by Turkish forces – have ensured stability and security in the region. A stability that has steadily declined since the Russian intervention in Georgia in 2008. “Countries in the region have been increasingly reluctant to cooperate with Russia. Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, cooperation programs have been dormant,” says Mustafa Aydin. “The situation we are experiencing offers disturbing similarities to the Cold War: the Black Sea is becoming a zone of cold peace, with Russia controlling most of the north and Turkey most of the south.” The keystone of the region’s geopolitical balance remains the Montreux Convention. Since 1936, this text has offered Turkey control of access to the Black Sea through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits. Turkey must guarantee “total freedom” to civilian ships that use it – and is only allowed to block military ships in times of war.
Reinforcement in the black sea
The increased presence of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea only complicates the balancing act that Turkey has been playing since the start of the war in Ukraine. Linked to Moscow by a heavy energy dependence as well as powerful tourist links, Ankara cannot afford to “burn bridges” with Moscow, according to the formula used on March 27 by the spokesperson for the presidency, Ibrahim Kalin.
If the Turkish-Russian relationship does not seem directly threatened as it stands, the Turkish presence in this maritime area could play in favor of a possible strengthening of Ankara’s ties with NATO. Turkey, which has been the only country in the alliance to oppose Russia in many theaters of operations – from Idlib (in Syria) to Nagorno-Karabakh (in the Caucasus) – could use its position the only power able to compete with Russia in the Black Sea to strengthen its ties with NATO. “There will be a qualifying change with the individual members of NATO who, officially or unofficially, sanction Russia”, predicts Mustafa Aydin.
The war puts the Black Sea, neglected by Ankara for the past seven years, back at the center of the Turkish geopolitical chessboard. “Turkey must reconnect with this region, concludes Mustafa Aydin. For Ankara, returning to the cooperation situation of the early 2000s would be the best option, but this hypothesis is unlikely. With the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the Black Sea is destined to become an increasingly troubled and unstable geographical area.