May 18, 2016 (EIRNS)
While attention has been focused on NATO provocations in the Baltic, the Black Sea — thanks to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — could become the next hotspot in the encirclement of Russia. Hurriyet Daily News commentator Serkan Demirtas writes that Erdogan will now take over Turkish foreign policy, and make the Black Sea a new focus of attention.
Demirtas warns that Erdogan is making a radical departure from Turkey’s historically cautious policy regarding the Black Sea, which is based on the 1937 Montreux Convention. The Convention gives all countries access through the Bosporus Straits, but bans passage to aircraft carriers from non-Black Sea states, thus keeping U.S. carriers out. Turkey has also traditionally assured the U.S. Navy kept a low profile in the region.
Erdogan is currently changing this policy. Demirtas refers to a speech Erdogan made last week at a meeting of visiting chiefs of staff from Balkan countries. He was reported telling the visiting NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, “You are not visible in the Black Sea. And your invisibility in the Black Sea turns it into a Russian lake, so to speak’…. As NATO members, we should take all required steps in all spheres, including the sea, air, and land. ”
Turkey, no doubt, will bring up the Black Sea during the June NATO summit in Warsaw, but has already taken steps on its own initiative complementing the activation of a new ground-based U.S. missile defense system in Romania last week.
Turkey has reinforced the naval forces of Romania and Bulgaria, intensified efforts to let Georgia join NATO, and granted more political and military support to Ukraine. It has been developing military-to-military relations with all the countries in the region. Turkish Defense Minister Yilmaz recently visited Ukraine, where a new agreement was signed to “outline directions and spheres of military cooperation between the two countries’ armies until 2020.” This followed high-level visits between the two countries earlier this year that highlighted Turkey’s intention to stand with Ukraine against Russia.
Last week the defense ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia met to discuss a trilateral military cooperation agreement. Demirtas warns, “At a moment when Georgia’s territorial integrity is at stake due to the South Ossetia and Abkhazia conflicts and the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is about to take Azerbaijan and Armenian into the middle of a hot conflict, discussions over military cooperation that would envisage joint military exercises show the significance of the move.”
Demirtas concludes, “All these developments portray a significant change in Turkey’s traditional foreign policy of not directly confronting Russia on the Black Sea and surrounding regions. It will be very important to observe how Russia’s Vladimir Putin will respond to all these measures and what dangerous consequences they will produce.”