Montreux impasse in the Russia-Ukraine crisis

Turkey is an important country in the Ukraine crisis due to its location in the Black Sea, place in the USA-Russia rivalry and being a balancing factor between Ukraine and Russia. Turkey, the strongest member of NATO in the Black Sea, is the country that geopolitically holds the key to the Black Sea. This privilege of Turkey, which is protected by the Montreux Convention, has recently been sought to be changed by the United States.

The tension between the USA and Russia, originating from Ukraine, continues. This tension also concerns Turkey closely. Because Turkey, which has partnerships with both countries, is in the middle of tension due to NATO membership on the one hand and geopolitical partnership on the other.

Last year, Russia and Western countries faced each other in the Black Sea. It seems possible that such a confrontation will occur in 2022 as well. Developments in this direction will also affect the relations between Turkey-USA-NATO and Turkey-Russia.

The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, signed in 1936, is important in this respect. If Western countries want to send warships to the Black Sea, they must notify Turkey 15 days in advance, according to Montreux provisions. In addition, ships weighing more than 15 thousand tons cannot pass through the Bosphorus and cannot stay in the Black Sea for more than 21 days.

Western states, especially the USA, made efforts to amend the Montreux Convention in order to increase their presence in the Black Sea. However, Turkey has so far resisted these efforts. The restrictions imposed by Montreux on the states that do not have a coast to the Black Sea prevented the influence of Western states in the region. NATO's presence in the Black Sea was only possible through Turkey. Reinforcements to NATO bases in Bulgaria and Romania via Alexandroupoli in Greece will not change this.


With the crisis in Ukraine, the pressure on Turkey to change Montreux conditions has increased even more. For Turkey, the Montreux Convention is critical as it provides an important balance between Turkey's military and security commitments to NATO, of which Turkey is a member, and its political and economic relations with Russia.

While there were reports in the Western media that Montreux limited the presence of NATO, Russia expressed the importance of sticking to the contract.

New controversy arose after news broke that Washington could impose new rules for the passage and movement of warships in the Black Sea.

Retired General Ben Hodges, the former Commander of the European Forces of the US Army, participated in the broadcast on the UK-based LBC channel, said, “Actually, there is a trump card that we can use against Russia, but we do not use. This is Turkey's control over the straits. Turkey has legitimate reasons to close the straits to Russian military ships if we establish the right relationship with our Turkish allies to make sure they are not subject to Russian backlash.”

Hodges, implying that the issue is being negotiated with Turkey, said, “I asked the US National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan about this issue two weeks ago. As far as I understand, they are talking about this issue with our allies.”


Despite the Montreux Convention, it is debated whether the US has made an effort to change the current rules. "NATO's proposal does not cover the Black Sea" said the Turkish official, who did not reveal his name.

Another senior official said, “The United States asked Turkey for support for the Black Sea in its offer. However, this offer shared with us does not contain anything that would harm the Montreux Convention. Essentially, it aims to reduce the risk and prevent problems at sea."

On the other hand, Russia is uncomfortable with the exercises carried out by the USA and NATO allies in the Black Sea. The Turkish official said, “In any case, we have made it clear to our allies that they should not think about anything other than the Montreux Convention. We do not approve of Russia's restrictive approach. However, we do not want proposals from the United States and other allies that will lead to a restrictive approach.”

Regarding the tension in the Black Sea, Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar said, "Our stance is very clear, we have been expressing for years that we are in favor of the countries bordering the Black Sea, living in peace, dialogue, peace and prosperity within the framework of the Montreux regime. We have always brought forward that it is beneficial for the people and that it is out of the question to give up on it under today's conditions."


Until 2014, Turkey's main concern was the deterioration of stability and peace in the Black Sea basin and the possibility of conflict in the region. Although Turkey supported the NATO membership of Bulgaria and Romania, it objected to an outside NATO force in the Black Sea. Turkey based its objection on the Montreux Convention. As a matter of fact, in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, the USA did not allow the passage of high-tonnage warships. Turkey did this not because it sided with Russia, but because the presence of the US Navy in the Black Sea could endanger Turkey's interests as well.

Turkey should be aware that the Montreux Convention is one of the cornerstones of stability in the Black Sea and that any change in the provisions of the convention will deepen the current crisis. In this respect, efforts should be made to preserve the Convention. Changes to the Agreement, which has been in effect for more than 80 years, may cause irreversible damages in the future. Turkey's preservation of the initiative is very important for its national security.

The importance of Turkey for Russia and Ukraine is not only due to its geographical location. The UAVs that Ukraine bought from Turkey and its game-changing effect in the region are an important example of the different dimensions of relations. Mutual investments and cooperation agreements with both countries in the fields of trade, tourism and defense industry are also important.

Turkey prefers to ensure stability in the Black Sea region and to resolve the problems among the countries of the region, instead of being a testing ground for international competition as much as possible. In this context, Turkey, which is one of the rare countries that can act as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, has strategic relations with both countries, making its role in this crisis even more important.