03/01/2022, 14.35
TURKEY - RUSSIA
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Erdogan closes the Straits (but the Russian ships have already passed)

by Marta Ottaviani

Turkey has chosen to apply the Montreaux Treaty, but when it speaks of Ukraine's "territorial integrity" it is also thinking of the Kurdish question. The conflict between Moscow and Kiev is a major internal economic problem for Ankara, which had offered itself as a venue for negotiations. Putin has instead preferred Belarus to avoid having to pay a price to Erdogan.

 

Milan (AsiaNews) - A dutiful gesture, at almost no cost, that comes (almost) Ttoo late. After a meeting of the National Crisis Unit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey will make use of the Montreux Treaty, by which it can practically ban the transit of civilian or military ships from the Bosphorus. The measure was taken against Russian vessels in order to avoid increased pressure on Ukraine.

"We have our national interests at heart,' Erdogan explained, 'but this does not mean we neglect regional and global balances." Words destined, at least on paper, to irritate the Kremlin, along with those that came soon after. The president said that Turkey "supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine" and "appreciates the struggle of the Ukrainian people". But Erdogan's words should always be read in the national context, and therefore essentially in an anti-Kurdish key.

Thus, Ankara therefore seems to have taken, albeit with great calm, a clear position in this conflict. And certainly, the decision to apply the Montreux Treaty is one that Turkey would have happily spared itself. Turkey is one of Russia's main allies and trading partners. Ankara is entangled with Moscow, not always in a complementary manner, in several international theatres: Syria, Libya, the Caucasus and Central Asia, to name a few.  But Turkey also has excellent trade relations with Ukraine, to which the president has also sold the deadly drones produced by his son-in-law's company Bayraktar. Erdogan views the continuation of the conflict primarily as an economic headache at a time when the national economy is in a particularly critical condition.

Two aspects should also be underlined. The first is that Ankara could not delay this decision any longer. Turkey is still NATO's second (numerical) army. In recent years, the Atlantic Pact has had more than one stomach ache because of its relations with Russia, which have culminated in military agreements, specifically the supply of the S-400 missile system, very similar to the one Russia has deployed on Belarusian territory. If Erdogan had continued to let Russian ships pass through, which in recent weeks have in any case transited without any problems and in quantity, he would easily have incurred the wrath of Brussels. An inconvenience that the president preferred to avoid (at least this one).

The decision, however, should also be understood as a message to Moscow. Firstly, it certainly did not come as a surprise. Two days ago, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called his counterpart Sergei Lavrov and there is every reason to believe that it was a warning call. Secondly, Ankara tried to the last to host the mediation between Russia and Ukraine. But Putin preferred Lukashenko's Belarus for two reasons. The first is that it is a more controllable territory. The second is that it is cost-free. The Russian president could never have given Turkey such an advantage. Hosting the negotiations for Ankara would have meant, in fact, an increase in international prestige and above all sooner or later he would have asked Moscow for something in return, for example a military presence in the Caucasus.

For Putin, it is much better to have chosen Belarus. As for the closed Bosphorus, what had to pass has passed. And Erdogan once again succeeded in striking a blow for the hoop and a blow for the barrel.

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