The current deterioration of any hopes of a lasting ceasefire in the eastern Ukraine, have brought not only the long smoldering conflict back into the forefront of global media attention, but have also presented an opportunity for several geopolitical rivals to take advantage of the situation for their own perceived benefit. Russia responded rapidly to immediate signals from the Kiev government that it fully intended to explore yet another military campaign to resolve the long-standing stalemate in the Donbass and a possible invasion of the Crimean Peninsula.
On March 29th, the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) officially adopted Resolution No. 5312, which is a clear departure from the Minsk Agreement and labels Russia as the unequivocal aggressor and responsible party for the conflict. Within days, the Ukrainian Armed Forces began moving large amounts of heavy equipment and materiel up to the line of contact and advanced some units within the demilitarized zone. The Zelensky government made very public calls for support from NATO, the United Kingdom and the United States, which were reciprocated in short order. Russia responded with warnings to Kiev to deescalate, coupled with deployments of military units along the south-eastern border with Ukraine, and reinforcement of units tasked with safeguarding the Crimea.
Within a week of the provocative parliamentary vote, over 100 former Turkish Navy officers committed their signatures to an open letter criticizing the Erdogan governments decisions related to maritime matters and demanded that he maintain Turkeys commitment to the Montreux Convention. Ten former admirals that signed the letter were swiftly arrested and painted as traitors planning a governmental coup. This story was briefly covered by corporate media, but quickly dropped off the radar. Was this incident aimed at undermining the Erdogan government, or a diplomatic ploy created by the Erdogan government? There are ample reasons to support either assertion. The timing of the incident, in close relation to developments vis-à-vis Russian and Ukraine, are far from coincidental.
Erdogan himself has made a number of statements regarding his administrations willingness to re-evaluate whether the Montreux Doctrine should be revised or abandoned. Most of these comments were linked to media questions regarding the proposed Istanbul Canal, a $10 billion project that would construct a canal parallel to the busy Bosporus Strait. The Istanbul Canal project has been proposed off and on since 2011, with referrals for proposals from likely contractors solicited since 2013. But why the sudden reinjection of the topic of the Montreux Doctrine in such a dramatic fashion now? The timing seems far from a coincidence.
Balance Of Power In The Black Sea: Will The Montreux Convention Prevail? Although logical allies against a common rival, President Erdogan harbors his own designs for Crimea that do not include Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Is Turkey signaling a possible departure from the international compact, signed in 1936, as an attempt to put pressure on Russian efforts to defend Crimea and respond to NATO assurances of support for Ukraine? What benefits would be achieved by Turkey pulling out of the treaty? Ukrainian president Zelensky made an official visit to Turkey and met with Erdogan on April 10th to discuss defense cooperation amongst numerous other topics. Erdogan reiterated his administrations commitment to Ukraines national sovereignty yet saw the Minsk Agreement as the vehicle to achieve a solution to the current impasse. He also voiced support for the official inclusion of Ukraine as a full member of the NATO alliance in the future. More than a few mixed messages to say the least.
Montreux Convention: A Brief Overview
The Regime of the Straits as first adopted by signatories in 1936 in Montreux, Switzerland attempted to govern the movement of commercial and military traffic through the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits. This treaty once adopted, replaced the previous Lausanne Treaty of 1923. Clearly a major diplomatic victory for Turkey, the nation maintained sovereignty over the maritime territory of the Bosporus Strait, Strait of Dardanelles, and the Sea of Marmora and gave it the ability to close this major maritime traffic lane to any belligerent of Turkey in time of war. More importantly, it has minimized the ability of any nation whose territory does not border the Black Sea to transit significant amounts of naval warships into the Black Sea. This was a major concern of many of the signatories at the time of its adoption at the onset of the Second World War, chief amongst them the Soviet Union.
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