The Montreux Convention Regarding The Regime Of The Straits: A Turkish Perspective

The Montreux Convention regarding the regime of the Turkish Straits was signed on 20 July 1936 in Montreux. With this convention, the Republic of Turkey managed to end the issue of Straits, which was resolved temporarily with the Treaty of Lausanne, so as to protect its own safety and interests.

Considering the historical developments, Turkey had to allow the Straits as a gun-free zone to be administered by the Straits Commission under the Treaty of Lausanne. This situation which threatened Turkey’s absolute sovereignty and security over its territory had to be corrected due to the increasing political tensions in Europe in the late 1930s. The Montreux Convention was the result of the political and diplomatic efforts that were made in this direction.

Through this convention that was signed by Australia, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Japan, France, Romania, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey, Turkey’s limited rights were given back. Turkey gained sovereignty over the Straits Zone. The USA was also invited to the conference that was held before the convention. However, the Washington Government preferred not to participate and thus couldn’t become a signatory.

500px-Turkish_Strait_disambig.svg

Northwestern Turkey is divided by a complex waterway that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea. The channel passing between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara is named the İstanbul Boğazı, more commonly called the Bosporus. Istanbul, the largest city of Turkey is positioned at the south end of the Bosporus. The Sea of Marmara is connected to the Aegean Sea by a channel called the Çanakkale Boğazı, also known as the Dardanelles. The Turkish Straits, comprising the Strait of Canakkale, the Strait of Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara, are unique in many respects. The very narrow and winding shape of the strait is more akin to that of the river. It is an established fact that the Turkish Straits are one of the most hazardous, crowded, difficult and potentially dangerous waterways in the world for marines. All the dangers and obstacles characteristic of narrow waterways are present and acute in this critical sea lane.

The Montreux Convention guarantees free passage of civilian merchant ships without any restriction through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus in peacetime. Therefore, the adoption of the Turkish Straits Vessel Traffic Services System, which was put into practice by Turkey when the number and tonnages of vessels passing through the straits increased dramatically, became possible after serious diplomatic negotiations between the signatories of the Montreux Convention.

Six out of 29 articles of the Montreux Convention were related to the civilian merchant ships while 16 of them were related to warships and aircraft. Provisions regarding the passing of warships through the Straits vary depending on whether these ships belong to a country with or without a shore on the Black Sea. Also, these provisions vary depending on whether Turkey is belligerent or sees itself under a close war threat.

The definition of “ton” in the Montreux Convention, unless otherwise specified, refers to the long ton, which is equal to 1016 kg (2240 pounds) instead of the metric ton that is equal to 1000 kg.

Passage of warships
The Black Sea riparian countries have the right to transit their warships and submarines through the Straits without any tonnage restriction provided that Turkey is notified eight days prior to the transit passage through diplomatic channels

Ships that have a greater tonnage than 15.000 tons may pass through the Straits one by one and be escorted by not more than two destroyers.

Only submarines belonging to riparian states can pass on the surface and singly through the Turkish Straits, for the purpose of rejoining their base in the Black Sea for the first time after their construction or purchase, or for the purpose of repair in dockyards outside the Black Sea.

There are severe restrictions in terms of type, number and tonnage for the transit through the Straits of warships that belong to the non-Black Sea countries. These non-riparian countries are required to notify Turkey 15 days, prior to the transit through diplomatic channels.

The total number and the maximum aggregate tonnage of all foreign naval forces which may be in course of passage through the Turkish Straits are limited to 9 and 15.000 tons respectively. The maximum aggregate tonnage that non-riparian States may have in the Black Sea is 45.000 tons. In this regard, the maximum aggregate tonnage of the vessels of war that one non-riparian State may have in the Black Sea is 30.000 tons. The non-riparian states cannot keep their warships for more than 21 days in the Black Sea.

Due to its date of signing, the Montreux Convention does not have a clear statement with regard to nuclear-powered vessels. In fact, in the convention, there is not a statement with regard to the engine types of the ships that will pass through the Straits. In theory, the transit of a nuclear-powered ship through the Straits is not restricted. However, today nuclear-powered warships are either submarines or aircraft carriers with huge tonnage.

The transit of a submarine or an aircraft carrier belonging to a country without a shore on the Black Sea is not possible. Therefore, a nuclear-powered warship has not passed through the Straits officially so far.

The only type of warship that is exclusively banned from passage through the Turkish Straits is the aircraft carrier.

Turkish Straits during a War or Crisis
In the time of war Turkey not being belligerent, the peacetime rules apply for the warships belonging to non-belligerent parties. Warships belonging to the waring states cannot pass through the Turkish Straits, The only exception of this is that if the warships belonging to belligerent countries with or without a shore on the Black Sea have already left the ports that they are affiliated to before the war, they have the right to transit in order to return to their ports.

In time of war, Turkey being belligerent, the passage of warships is entirely left to the discretion of the Turkish Government.

The Southern enterance of the Bosphorus. The old city, The Golden Horn are visible at the bottom. At far left the first Bosphorus Bridge can be seen.

Similarly, if Turkey considers itself to be threatened with imminent danger of war, the transit of warships belonging to foreign countries through the Straits is left to the discretion of the Turkish Government.

By means of this authority, Turkey can prohibit the transit of warships belonging to the countries that cause Turkey to consider itself to be threatened with the danger of war while it can allow the transit of warships belonging to countries that do not cause that such situation.

With the Montreux Convention regarding the regime of the straits, which we have tried to summarize above, the number, type and size of the warships that can reach the Black Sea have been restricted. These restrictions increased the security of the riparian states. However, the same restrictions prevent the desire of countries with powerful naval forces to be present and cruise in all seas all around the world.

Turkey has been trying to implement the Montreux Convention with great precision since 1936. Therefore, occasionally Turkey is exposed to criticism from countries both with and without a shore on the Black Sea. The first big test of the Montreux Convention was, no doubt, the Second World War. Turkey closed the Straits to the warships of the belligerent countries during this war in which Turkey remained neutral. This situation served the purpose of the Soviet Union since the transit of German submarines and warships through the Straits was prevented. Axis countries couldn’t bring new warships to the Black Sea except for those that were already in the Black Sea before the war. Submarines were transferred in pieces by land or through the Danube River so that they could be assembled in Romania.

This however also prevented the military aid convoys coming from its allies, the UK and the USA, to pass through the Straits. Therefore, much of the military aid from the USA and UK had to be carried to Russia either over Iran or over the North Pole route.

Montreux During The Cold War
During the Cold War, Turkey was exposed to criticism both from the Soviet Union and the NATO allies from time to time due to its way of implementation of the Montreux Convention.

In 1976 when Turkey allowed the warship Kiev to pass through the Turkish Straits, many NATO allies including the USA protested Turkey. The Kiev, constructed in the Nikolayev Shipyard in the Black Sea in 1972 was considered as the first aircraft carrier constructed in the Soviet Union. However, having been quite aware of the fact that violating the Montreux Convention would not be good for its own benefit, the USSR classified Kiev as a heavy anti-submarine cruiser.

The Montreux Convention, defines aircraft carriers as surface warships, regardless of their tonnage, designed and constructed mainly to carry aircraft and enable their operation of them. If a warship was not designed or constructed with the sole purpose of carrying and operating aircraft, is not considered as an aircraft carrier even if the ship has a suitable deck for the aircraft’s take-off and landing.

Kiev and her sister ships had long-range anti-ship and air defence missiles as well as anti-submarine warfare rockets. Thus, the Soviet Union was able to classify these ships as heavy anti-submarine cruisers. All the ships of this class, Kiev, Minsk, Novorossiysk and Baku passed frequently both northbound and southbound through the Turkish Straits while they were commissioned.

This is not a carrier. Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov passing through Bosphorus

A similar crisis happened in 1991 when Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, still commissioned in the Russian Naval Forces, passed through the Turkish Straits. Although this ship looked like a classical aircraft carrier in terms of its structure, the Soviet Union classified it as a heavy cruiser due to weapon systems deployed onboard. Again some NATO members put serious pressure on Turkey not to allow this ship to pass through the Straits, but they didn’t succeed in this effort.

Unlike Kiev class ships, the Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov didn’t pass through the Straits ever, after leaving the Black Sea in December 1991.

Montreux in the New World
After the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the U.S. Government requested help from the NATO countries within the scope of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. According to this article, an armed attack against a NATO country is considered an attack against all of the NATO countries.

In this context, on 26 October 2001 Operation Active Endeavour (OAE) the first anti-terror operation of NATO was launched. The operation began with the patrols of the warships belonging to NATO countries in the Eastern Mediterranean was later on expanded so as to search the suspicious ships and their loads.

Upon the success of the OAE in the Eastern Mediterranean, the operation was expanded to the whole Mediterranean in March 2004. At the same time, the Turkish Naval Forces launched Operation Black Sea Harmony (OBSH). The purpose of OBSH was to ensure security in the Black Sea, create situational awareness and control suspicious merchant ships. The recognized maritime picture obtained within the scope of the operation, which is still ongoing, is shared with the NATO authorities and headquarters.

Initially, only units of the Turkish Naval Forces participated in OBSH. Later Turkey invited all littoral countries in the Black Sea to participate in the operation that was launched with its own initiative, and Romania, Russia and Ukraine responded positively to this invitation. The most important effect of the OBSH was that all the pressure exerted to modify the Montreux Convention and expand the OAE into the Black Sea was neutralised. Otherwise, if OAE was extended into the Black Sea, warships belonging to non-riparian NATO countries would be regularly present in the Black Sea and successful implementation of the Montreux Convention would be jeopardised.

After the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, the Montreux Convention was widely discussed again. Turkey received a lot of flak for refusing the transit of the hospital ship USNS Comfort. The USA wanted to dispatch the ship with a 69.552 displacement to Georgia to show solidarity and provide aid. However the article of the Montreux Convention is very clear about the sizes of the ships to be sent for humanitarian reasons: “In the event that one or more countries without a shore on the Black Sea desire to send naval forces into the Black Sea, for a humanitarian purpose, the said forces cannot exceed 8.000 tons.” The neo-conservative U.S. government was not happy with this decision.

The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, and NATO’s anti-ballistic missile defence system were the most recent times when Ankara faced pressure on how it implemented the Montreux Convention in dealing with foreign navies’ requests for transit to and from the BlackSea.

What Now?
Turkey will face challenges regarding the implementation of the Montreux Convention, especially after Ukraine calls on Turkey to close its airspace and the Black Sea access to Russian vessels on 24 February 2022. The Russian invasion of Ukraine showed that Russia indeed is the major challenge in terms of the security and stability of Europe in general and the Black Sea region specifically.

Turkey created a security architecture in the Black Sea with the riparian states. This apparatus keep the security in the region and keep the warships of the non-riparian states out. This architecture worked when the Russian Black Sea Fleet was weak and the NATO’s enlargement toward the east was slow. It even survived the Russian attack on Georgia in 2008. However, in 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea meant the collapse of the regional security architecture.

In recent years, Russia displayed its discontent towards the existence of foreign warships in the Black Sea by shadowing them constantly and flying military planes aggressively low and close to these vessels of war. On the other hand, NATO is trying to find ways to keep more warships of non-riparian States in the Black Sea and keep them longer.

When determining ways to bring stability to the Black Sea region and to answer the security challenges caused by Russian aggression it is important to remember that the Montreux Convention is simply far more than just a treaty that regulates the passage of commercial and naval ships through the Turkish Straits.

The Montreux Convention completes the Treaty of Lausanne, allowing Turkey to have full and absolute sovereignty and security over its territory. Therefore it is vital for Turkey to keep the convention alive and relevant.

Note: I have first written this text in 2014 for the Turkish online defence magazine C4 Defence in Turkish. It was published in the March 2014 Issue. Since then it was also published on web site Second Line of Defense. I have changed the original text in light of the recent Russian attack on Ukraine.

A Primer On The Montreux Convention

500px-Turkish_Strait_disambig.svgThis is just a short primer on the Montreux Convention that regulates the passage of Merchant and warship through the Turkish Straits.

Signed on 20 July 1936, The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits gives Turkey full control over the Turkish Straits, guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime and permits Turkey to remilitarise the Turkish Straits.

  1. The aim of the Montreux Convention is to regulate the passage of civilian and military ships through the Turkish Straits.
  2. The term Turkish Straits covers the Dardanelles, the Marmara Sea and the Bosporus.
  3. The Convention makes a clear differentiation between Black Sea countries (Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia) and non-Black Sea countries.
  4. Merchant vessels enjoy total freedom of passage through the Turkish Straits.  Turkish Straits Vessel Traffic Services Centre regulates the passages according to the Maritime Traffic Regulations for the Turkish Straits dated 1998.
  5. The Black Sea Countries;
    • cannot pass warships solely designed to carry airplanes through Turkish Straits.
    • can pass submarines if they are joining their base in the Black Sea for the first time after their construction or purchase, or if they are returning from a repair in dockyards outside the Black Sea.
    • can pass their warships through Turkish Straits by notifying Turkey through diplomatic channels 8 days before the passage.
  6. The Non-Black Sea Countries;
    • cannot pass warships solely designed to carry airplanes through Turkish Straits.
    • cannot pass submarines.
    • can pass warships, but the aggregate displacement of the foreign warships in the Black Sea may not exceed 45.000 tons.
    • cannot hold their ships in the Black Sea longer than 21 days.
    • cannot have more than 9 ships in the Black Sea at the same time
    • can pass their warships through Turkish Straits by notifying Turkey through diplomatic channels 15 days before the passage.

For further reading:

  • The full text of the Montreux Convention can be found here.
  • The official Turkish stand of the implementation of  the Montreux Convention can be found here.

The Montreux Convention Regarding The Regime Of The Straits: A Turkish Perspective

I have written the following text for the Turkish online defence magazine C4 Defence in Turkish. It was published in the March Issue. Since it was also published in web site Second Line of Defense, I’m publishing it here.

As I have delivered the text in Turkish, the English translation was without my influence. There are some places where I would have expressed myself differently. But I admire the hard word and the good job the (for my unknown) translator has put it, thank him/her wholeheartedly.

 

THE MONTREUX CONVENTION REGARDING THE REGIME OF THE STRAITS: A TURKISH PERSPECTIVE

The Montreux Convention regarding the regime of the Turkish Straits was signed on 20 July 1936 in Montreux. With this convention, the Republic of Turkey managed to end the issue of Straits, which was resolved temporarily with the Treaty of Lausanne, so as to protect its own safety and interests.

Considering the historical developments, Turkey had to allow the Straits as a gun-free zone to be administered by the Straits Commission under the Treaty of Lausanne. This situation which threatened Turkey’s absolute sovereignty and the security over its territory had to be corrected due to the increasing political tensions in Europe in the late 1930s. The Montreux Convention was the result of the political and diplomatic efforts that were made in this direction.

Through this convention that was signed by Australia, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Japan, France, Romania, the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey, Turkey’s limited rights were given back. Turkey gained sovereignty over the Straits Zone. The USA was also invited to the conference that was held before the convention. However, the Washington Government preferred not to participate and thus couldn’t become a signatory.

500px-Turkish_Strait_disambig.svgNorthwestern Turkey is divided by a complex waterway that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea. The channel passing between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara is named the Istanbul Bogazi, more commonly called the Bosporus. Istanbul is positioned at the south end of the Bosporus. The Sea of Marmara is connected to the Aegean Sea by a channel called the Canakkale Bogazi, also known as the Dardanelles. The Turkish Straits, comprising the Strait of Canakkale, the Strait of Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara and, are unique in many respects. The very narrow and winding shape of the strait is more a kin to that of the river. It is an established fact that the Turkish Straits are one of the most hazardous, crowded, difficult and potentially dangerous, waterways in the world for marines. All the dangers and obstacles characteristic of narrow waterways are present and acute in this critical sea-lane.

Northwestern Turkey is divided by a complex waterway that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea. The very narrow and winding shape of the strait is more akin to that of a river. The Turkish Straits are one of the most hazardous, crowded, difficult and potentially dangerous, waterways in the world for mariners.

The Montreux Convention guarantees free passage of civilian merchant ships without any restriction through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus in peacetime. Therefore, the adoption of the Turkish Straits Vessel Traffic Services System, which was put into practice by Turkey when the number and tonnages of vessels passing through the straits increased dramatically, became possible after serious diplomatic negotiations between the signatories of the Montreux Convention.

Six out of 29 articles of the Montreux Convention were related to the civilian merchant ships while 16 of them were related to the war ships and aircrafts. Provisions regarding the passing of war ships through the Straits vary depending on whether these ships belong to a country with or without a shore on the Black Sea. Also, these provisions vary depending on whether Turkey is belligerent or sees itself under a close war threat.

The countries with a shore on the Black Sea have the right to transit their war ships and submarines through the Straits without any tonnage restriction provided that Turkey is notified eight days prior to the transit passage through diplomatic channels.

Ships that have a greater tonnage than 15.000 tons may pass through the Straits one by one and escorted by not more than two destroyers. The submarines are required to navigate on the surface and singly when passing through the Straits.

The definition of “ton” in the Montreux Convention, unless otherwise specified, refers to the long ton, which is equal to 1016 kg (2240 pounds) instead of the metric ton that is equal to 1000 kg. Moreover, the tonnage calculation of a war ship is made by taking into account the well-constructed and ready-to-sail ship’s fuel, all machineries, weapons and ammunition, its equipment, all its crew and their provisions and fresh water as well as all the tools and equipment that will be carried during a war.

Entry into the Black Sea
There are some restrictions in terms of type, number and tonnage for the transit through the Straits of war ships that belong to the countries without a shore on the Black Sea. These countries are required to notify Turkey eight days, but preferably 15 days, prior to the transit through diplomatic channels.

The countries without a shore on the Black Sea have the right to transit a naval force, which is not prohibited by the convention and whose total tonnage does not exceed 15.000 tons, from the Straits to the Black Sea. Even if the total tonnage does not exceed 15.000 tons, the number of ships cannot be more than nine.

The countries without a shore on the Black Sea cannot keep their war ships more than 21 days in the Black Sea. The total tonnage of war ships belonging to a country without a shore on the Black Sea cannot exceed 30.000 tons while the tonnage of war ships that can be kept by all of the countries without a shore on the Black Sea at the same time cannot exceed 45.000 tons.

Due to its date of signing, the Montreux Convention does not have a clear statement with regard to nuclear-powered vessels.

In fact, in the convention there is not a statement with regard to the engine types of the ships that will pass through the Straits. In theory, the transit of a nuclear-powered ship through the Straits is not restricted.

However, today the nuclear-powered war ships are either the submarines or aircraft carriers with huge tonnage. The transit of a submarine or an aircraft carrier belonging to a country without a shore on the Black Sea is not possible. Therefore, a nuclear-powered war ship has not passed through the Straits officially so far.

Straits during a War or Crisis

The Southern enterance of the Bosphorus. The old city, The Golden Horn are visible at the bottom. At far left the first Bosphorus Bridge can be seen.

The Southern enterance of the Bosphorus. The old city, The Golden Horn are visible at the bottom. At far left the first Bosphorus Bridge can be seen.

In the event that one of the countries with a shore on the Black Sea enters into a war, the rules of the Montreux Convention that are applicable during peacetime change naturally. If Turkey is neutral in the war, the transit of war ships belonging to the belligerent countries is prohibited.

The peacetime rules apply for the war ships belonging to other countries. The only exception of this is that if the war ships belonging to belligerent countries with or without a shore on the Black Sea have already left the ports that they are affiliated to before the war, they have the right to transit in order to return to their ports.

In the event that Turkey is a party to the war, the transit of war ships belonging to foreign countries through the Straits is left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish Government.

Similarly, if Turkey considers itself to be threatened with imminent danger of war, the transit of war ships belonging to foreign countries through the Straits is left to the discretion of the Turkish Government.

By means of this authority, Turkey can prohibit the transit of war ships belonging to the countries that cause Turkey to consider itself to be threatened with danger of war while it can allow the transit of war ships belonging to countries that do not cause that such situation.

Montreux on a Global Scale
With the Montreux Convention regarding the regime of the straits, which we have tried to summarize above, the number, type and size of the war ships that can reach the Black Sea have been restricted. These restrictions increase the security of the countries with a shore on the Black Sea. However, the same restrictions prevent the desire of countries with powerful naval forces to be present and cruise in all seas all around the world.

Turkey has been trying to implement the Montreux Convention with great precision since 1936. Therefore, occasionally Turkey is exposed to criticism from countries both with and without a shore on the Black Sea.

The first big test of the Montreux Convention was, no doubt, the Second World War.

Turkey closed the Straits to the war ships of the belligerent countries during this war in which Turkey remained neutral. This situation served to the purpose of the Soviet Union since the transit of German submarines and war ships through the Straits was prevented. Axis countries couldn’t bring new war ships to the Black Sea except for those that were already in the Black Sea before the war. Submarines were transferred in pieces by land or through the Danube River so that they could be assembled in Romania.

However, in the following process Moscow’s perspective changed. The main reason of this change was the fact that the military aid convoys coming from its allies, the UK and the USA, could not pass through the Straits.

During the Cold War, Turkey was exposed to criticism of the Soviet Union and the NATO allies from time to time due to its way of implementation of the Montreux Convention.

The fact that in 1976 Turkey allowed the transit of Kiev, which was launched in the Nikolayev Shipbuilding in the Black Sea in 1972, through the Straits caused the protests among the NATO allies, including the USA. Kiev was the first aircraft carrier constructed completely by the Soviet Union according to the Westerners. However, having been quite aware of the fact that violating the Montreux Convention would not be good for its own benefit, the USSR classified the Kiev as a heavy anti-submarine cruiser instead of an aircraft carrier.

Moscow couldn’t solve the problem with a simple change of name.

In the Montreux Convention, the aircraft carriers were defined as surface war ships, regardless of their tonnage, constructed mainly to carry aircrafts and enable the operation of these aircrafts in the sea or designed for this purpose. If a war ship was not designed or arranged with the purpose of carrying aircrafts and enabling them to operate in the sea, having a suitable deck for the aircraft’s take-off and landing was not enough for its inclusion in the aircraft carrier class.

In Kiev and the ships that came after her in this class, there were long-range anti-ship and air defense missiles as well as anti-submarine warfare rockets. Thus, the Soviet Union was able to classify these ships as a heavy anti-submarine cruiser. Today, having been taken out service by Russia, the Kiev, Minsk, Novorossiysk and Baku that was constructed afterwards passed frequently through the Straits while on duty.

This is not a carrier. Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov passing through Bosphorus.

A similar crisis happened in 1991 when the RFNS Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov, which still serves in the Russian Army, passed through the Straits. Although this ship looked like a classical aircraft carrier in terms of its structure, the Soviet Union classified it as a heavy cruiser due to some weapon systems deployed on the ship. Some NATO member countries put serious pressure on Turkey not to allow this ship to pass through the Straits, but they didn’t succeed in this effort. Unlike Kiev-class ships, the RFNS Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov didn’t pass through the Straits again after leaving the Black Sea in 1991.

The second ship belonging to this class was launched in 1988 with the name of Varyag, but no studies had been carried out on this ship for many years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This ship, as the flagship and first aircraft carrier of the Chinese Navy, passed through the Straits in 2001 with the name of Liaoning. Since its construction was not completed at that time, it wasn’t categorized as a ship and thus its transit wasn’t subject to the provisions of the Montreux Convention.

Montreux in the New World
After the terrorist attacks happened on 11 September 2001, the U.S. Government requested for help from the NATO countries within the scope of Article 5 of NATO Treaty. According to this article, an armed attack against a NATO country is considered as an attack against all of the NATO countries.

In this context, on 26 October 2001 the Operation Active Endeavour (OAE) that was the first anti-terror operation of NATO was launched. The operation that began with the patrols of the war ships belonging to NATO countries in the Eastern Mediterranean was later on expanded so as to search the suspicious ships and their loads.

Upon the success of the OAE in the Eastern Mediterranean, the operation was expanded to whole Mediterranean area in March 2004. On the same date, the Turkish Naval Forces launched the Operation Black Sea Harmony (OBSH).

The purpose of the operation, in which surface ships, submarines and aircrafts belonging to the Turkish Naval Forces were used at first, was to ensure the security in the Black Sea, create situational awareness and control the suspicious ships.

The OBSH actually had the same purpose with the OAE. The recognized maritime picture obtained within the scope of the operation, which is still ongoing, is shared with the NATO authorities and headquarters.

The Turkish Naval Forces invited all littoral countries in the Black Sea to participate in the operation that was launched with its own initiative, and Romania, Russia and Ukraine responded positively to this invitation.

The most important effect of the OBSH was that all the pressure exerted to modify the Montreux Convention and expand the OAE coming from the NATO countries without a shore on the Black Sea to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea could be resisted.

If the Turkish Naval Forces hadn’t launched the OBSH and made it accepted by other NATO countries, the OAE that was launched by the joint efforts of all NATO countries would have expanded to include the Black Sea. Therefore, they could have been in this sea and the war ships belonging to NATO countries without a shore on the Black Sea would have made it impossible to implement the Montreux Convention.

The Montreux Convention became a current issue after the Russia-Georgia War in 2008. Turkey didn’t allow the transit of the 69.552-ton hospital ship named USNS Comfort with the bow number of T-AH-20 that was desired to be sent to Georgia due to the Article of the Montreux Convention that read as: “In the event that one or more countries without a shore on the Black Sea desire to send naval forces into the Black Sea, for a humanitarian purpose, the said forces cannot exceed 8.000 tons.”

The U.S government did not welcome this development, which was neo-conservative during that period. Many American war ships that were carrying aid for Georgia had to shuttle back and forth between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea due to the restrictions of the Montreux Convention.

Another crisis broke out during the missile shield program which was established by NATO in order to protect Europe against ballistic missiles originating from the Middle East. Some of the Ticonderoga-class and Arleigh Burke-class ships in the U.S. Navy were fitted with the capability of ballistic missile prevention.

The Black Sea provides the most convenient location to these ships for hitting the enemy ballistic missiles outside the atmosphere.

Washington’s desire to deploy these ships, which represented the floating team of its missile shield program in the Black Sea, brought great discussions together.

However, the articles of the Montreux Convention that restrict the tonnage and duration of the ships passing through the Straits made it impossible for the American war ships to be deployed in the Black Sea within the framework of the missile shield program of NATO.

And 2014 Crimea
The presence of the foreign war ships passing through the Straits during recent Crimean events brought the Montreux Convention to the attention of the public once again.

When the Montreux Convention was signed, its duration was determined as 20 years. However, the freedom to pass through the Straits is unlimited. Termination of the convention can be only brought to the agenda by one of the signatory countries.

The USA, which will be able to bring its war ships for a time period depending on its own will with the repeal of the Montreux Convention cannot directly request the termination of the convention since it is not a party to the convention.

The countries with a shore on the Black Sea that have acquired rights by signing the convention prefer the continuation of the convention in consideration of their national security.

The fact that the convention hasn’t been terminated as described in the convention at the end of the 20 year-period and that this issue has never been raised until today shows that the Montreux Convention still has an important role for the signatory countries.

 

>A few words about Montreux

>The armed conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 brought the Montreux Convention, which can be regarded as a very technical and almost obscure treaty into the stage lights. This treaty was the result of a diplomatic solution to the problem on who was going to control the Turkish Straits.

The treaty of Lausanne officially ended the presence of Ottoman Empire and recognized the new Turkish republic. However, one important issue that this treaty did not solve was the control of the Turkish Straits.

The region surrounding the Turkish Straits was demilitarized as dictated by the treaty of Lausanne and the passage of ships was regulated by an international body called The Straits Commission. The regulation was much simple and straightforward allowing unrestricted civilian and military traffic.

In 1936 Turkey called for a conference about to change the status of Turkish Straits.Upon this call, Australia, Bulgaria, France, Japan, England, Romania, Greece, Yugoslavia, USSR and Turkey held a conference about the issue between 21 June and 20 July 1936 in Montreux, Switzerland.

Interestingly USA, where today the Montreux Convention is much debated, did neither participate the conference, nor sent a representative to observe the negotiations.

The convention consisting of 29 articles, four annexes and one protocol was duly signed by the participants on 20th July 1936.

The Montreux Convention gave Turkey the sovereignty of the Straits while allowing merchant shipping unhindered passage. After the treaty was signed, Turkey started to remilitarize the Straits immediately. As a result, Istanbul was no longer defenseless, which was crucial for Turkey, as the dooming Second World War came closer. The treaty granted Turkey the authority to close the Straits to any maritime movement, if Turkey’s security was threatened.

Montreux regulates the passage of military ships in detail. The treaty makes a distinction between Black Sea nations and non Black Sea nations. The navies of Black Sea nations enjoy freedom of movement through the Straits to a certain degree. On the other hand, the treaty strictly regulates the type of warships that non Black Sea navies can send to the Black Sea, according to the ships’ armament and displacement specifications. The duration of stay of the warship belonging to a non Black Sea nation in the Black sea is noted as no more than 21 days. The number of warships that non Black Sea navies can have in the Black Sea at the same time is limited to a total of nine.

Policing of Montreux has not been always easy. During the Cold War years Turkey was criticized by USA and by USSR for allowing other side’s ships pass.

Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the convention has proved a mixed blessing, as the Bosporus and Dardanelles have become a tanker turnpike; and under the terms of Montreux, Turkey cannot even collect toll or insist that merchantmen use pilots to navigate the sinuous channel. The Turkish Straits now see traffic of around 50,000 vessels annually, a number that includes nearly 5,000 tankers, making the passage the world’s second busiest maritime strait after the Straits of Malacca and the only one that bisects a major city, Istanbul. In 2006 10,154 tankers transited the channel.

>Mullen says U.S. abides by Montreux Convention

>I know that the news of Lehmann Bros. filing for bankruptcy captured the attention of world today. But there was a very important guest in Turkey making important meetings: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The result of this visit will be visible in the comming days.

http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/english/domestic/9903695.asp?gid=244&sz=25282

Russian Submarine Krasnodar Transited Southbound Trough Istanbul

Today improved Kilo class (Proj. 636.3) submarine of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Krasnodar made an unexpected southbound passage through Bosphorus.

The submarine one of the six units built specially for the Black Sea Fleet has been deployed in the region since 7.8.2017. She has 6 533mm torpedo tubes and carries a combination of up to 18 torpedoes, SS-N-27 anti-ship, and Kalibr land attack missiles.

While a southbound passage of a Russian submarine is very rare, it is has happened before. Russian Kilo class (Proj. 877) submarine Alrosa suffered an engine fire in 2009 and had to go to the Baltic for extensive repairs. She did even take part in the NATO exercise Bold Monarch 2011. Yes, it was different times then.

The Montreux Convention regulates the passage of submarines. While the submarines of non-Black Sea nations are forbidden to pass through the Straits, the submarines of the Black Sea riparian States may pass under certain conditions

Article 12.

Black Sea Powers shall have the right to send through the Straits, for the purpose of rejoining their base, submarines constructed or purchased outside the Black Sea, provided that adequate notice of the laying down or purchase of such submarines shall have been given to Turkey. Submarines belonging to the said Powers shall also be entitled to pass through the Straits to be repaired in dockyards outside the Black Sea on condition that detailed information on the matter is given to Turkey. In either case, the said submarines must travel by day and on the surface and must pass through the Straits singly.

The provision in the convention is very clear. If Krasnodar exited the Black Sea for repairs then this passage does not break the rules of the convention. If the submarine, however, joins her 2 sisters all ready stationed in the Med since 2017 and conducts military operations, then this will be a clear breach of the Montreux Convention. We will know better in a few days.

A New Naval Base In The Black Sea

The location of the future naval base of the Turkish Navy in the eastern Black Sea.

Turkish Navy has started the necessary bureaucratical procedures to establish a new naval base in the Black Sea.

Turkish Navy was thinking about establishing a naval base in the eastern Black Sea for almost one decade. The main Turkish naval base in the Black Sea is in Karadeniz Ereğli in the western part of the region. This base is approximately 100 nautical miles away from the northern entrance of Istanbul Strait and close to the strategic mining town Zonguldak. The base shares the port with the civilian shipping and is located figuratively next to the important Erdemir steel factory. This location made sense during the Cold War period. Turkish warships stationed there would stage hit and run attacks to Warsaw Pact warships trying to near the Bosphorus and protect the important infrastructure in the region from seaborne assault.

However, since Turkish Navy started to patrol the Black Sea more vigorously and initiated the Operation Black Sea Harmony in 2004, as a continuation of NATO Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean, the need for a second naval base in the eastern Black Sea become more obvious. A Turkish warship needs to sail approximately 500 nautical miles from Trabzon to Karadeniz Ereğli. This new base will eliminate the long trips from the eastern Black Sea.

According to news reports a suitable land was found in Sürmene town in Trabzon. The Commander of Turkish Naval Forces, Admiral Adnan Özbal has also visited the proposed site in July 2018.

The projected naval base will cover 60 acres. Again, according to news reports, there will be approximately 200 civilian and 400 military personnel. The base will provide logistical support to all type of warships and submarines in the Turkish Navy.

It is too early to say whether any ships will be permanently based in this base and if any what type. The projected site for the base does not seem to be suitable for the basing of a large number of ships, as it is. And it is not clear if any earth moving changes are to be made in the area.

This base will not affect the stay of warships of the nonriparian Black Sea States -especially non-Black Sea NATO members. Their stay will still be subject to Montreux Convention and limited to 21 days.

The Kerch Incident

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels on 25th November 2018 Sunday and escalated the feud between two countries to the next level.

The Ukrainian trio – Gurza-M class gunboats P-175 Berdyansk, P-176 Nikopol and the tug A-947 Yana Kapu – set sail from Odessa and was destined to Berdyansk by the Azov Sea.

The Azov Sea is a large and shallow part of the Black Sea shared by Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Access from the Black Sea is through the Kerch Strait.

In 2003 the –then friendly – Russian Federation and Ukraine signed a treaty cooperation in the use of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait. According to this treaty merchant ships and warships, as well as other state ships flying the flag of the Russian Federation or Ukraine, operated for non-commercial purposes, enjoy the freedom of navigation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

Before the occupation of Crimea, the Kerch Strait was separating Ukraine from Russia. Now both side of the strait is controlled by the Russian Federation. And this control enables Russia to decide who can pass through the Strait and who cannot. In the last couple of months, the Russian Federation has started to delay merchant ships in the Azov Sea, by detaining and inspecting them if their destination is a Ukrainian port. These legal but abusive inspections delay the ships at least 2 or 3 days.  European Parliament stated that Russia detained at least 120 vessels that flown the EU flag since April and not allowed them to proceed to Ukrainian ports. These arbitrary and unnecessary long inspections hurt the Ukrainian economy very much.

In the recent months, Russia has moved naval units from its Caspian and the Black Sea Fleets to the Azov Sea. As a counter move, Ukraine decided to reinforce its naval assets in the region. In early September Ukraine deployed two Gurza-M class gunboats. But instead sailing through the Kerch Strait they were moved on a truck by road. Thus Russia was not in a position to prevent this movement. Furthermore, Ukraine sends on 24th September the Amur class warships, A-500 Donbas and the tug A-830 Korets again through the Kerch Strait. During that deployment, the tug was towing the other ship.

However this time Ukraine decided to send the gunboats by sea instead of by land. This was not a decision out of nautical necessities.

The Russians tried to stop the Ukrainian ships. A video made from the bridge of Russian Sorum class Coast Guard vessel Don shows how the ship shouldered the Ukrainian tug Yana Kapu. The video does not show however how Don collided with the other Russian Coast Guard vessel Izumrud and created a hole on her superstructure.

Izumrud later opened fire with her AK-630 multi-barreled 30mm gun to the gunboat Berdyansk. The photos circulation on social media clearly shows the bullet hole on this boat. Later Russian special forces boarded the vessels and seized them.

In the aftermath of the incident, Russians flew the Ukrainians to Moscow. But before that, some of the Ukrainian sailors had to appear in front of the TV cameras to be forced to read some kind of made up confessions.

Ukraine pleaded help from the West and asked NATO to send warships to the Sea of Azov. People with enough geographical knowledge quickly realized that Azov Sea was too shallow to accommodate any NATO warship big enough to make a statement and armed enough to protect herself properly. Such a warship would not be able to pass under the Kerch Bridge that has only 33 meters clearance.

Ukraine also demanded Turkey to close Turkish Straits to Russian warships. Ihor Voronchenko, Commander of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, at the II International Conference on Maritime Security in Kiev, said that Ukraine intends to appeal to the international community to strengthen sanctions against Russia in connection with its aggressive actions in the Sea of Azov and to close the Bosporus Strait for vessels of the Russian Federation according to the 19th paragraph of the Convention of Montreux.

According to Article 19 of Montreux Convention, in time of war, Turkey not being belligerent, warships shall enjoy complete freedom of transit and navigation through the Straits under the same conditions as those laid down in Article 10 to 18. Vessels of war belonging to belligerent Powers shall not, however, pass through the Straits except in cases arising out of the application of Article 25 of the present Convention, and in cases of assistance rendered to a State victim of aggression in virtue of a treaty of mutual assistance binding-Turkey, concluded within the framework of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and registered and published in accordance with the provisions of Article 18 of the Covenant…

The obvious problem here is, that there is no openly declared war between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.  And neither of these two nations is going to change the status quo, by declaring one. Turkey will not close the Straits and will keep them open for any nation. Turkey also will try to lessen the tensions in the Black Sea through indirect mediation.

By sending the gunboats and the tug, Ukraine challenged the Russian position, that the Kerch Strait was a Russian inner waterway, and showed that it hasn’t recognized, the unilateral Russian change to the 2003 agreement. Ukraine has also managed to bring the problems it faces in the Azov Sea to the worldwide public attention. But has lost a third of her Gurza-M class gunboats which are much needed to strengthen the Ukrainian Navy

On the other hand, Russia revealed that it prefers to confront Ukrainian armed forces without proxies rather than putting its assumed ownership on the Kerch Strait and demonstrated that it was ready physically block the Strait at all costs.

Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group Two In Istanbul

The Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group Two arrived in Istanbul on 24 March 2017. The task group had made her northbound passage through the city 20 days before.

During this 20 days the task force first took part in Poseidon 2017. The mine warfare exercise was held between 5 and 15 March 2017.

After the completion of the exercise the task force sailed to Odessa, Ukraine. There the ship were open to public and received thousands of visitors during their stay there.

One day short of their allowance by the Montreux Convention the Task force sailed southbound through Istanbul Strait and docked in Istanbul port for a well-earned post visit.

Foreign Warship On Bosphorus in 2016 (Part 15)

This is a double issue as I was not able to update last week.

Russian auxiliary cargo ship Vologda-50 making a northbound passage. She is empty. Photo: Alper Böler.

Russian auxiliary cargo ship Vologda-50 making a northbound passage. She is empty. Photo: Alper Böler.

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Canadian frigate HMCS Frederection leaves the Black Sea. She spend all her 21 days allocated by Montreux Convention in the region. Photo: Alper Böler.

Romanian frigate Regina Maria returning to the Blakc Sea just after 3 days. Photo: Yörük Işık.

Romanian frigate Regina Maria returning to the Black Sea just after 3 days. Photo: Yörük Işık.

Russian landing ship Tsezar Kunikov returning empty from her Syrian deployment. Turkish coast guard and maritimie xsection of Istanbul Police Department is escortnig her as they do to all Russian ships recently.

Russian landing ship Tsezar Kunikov returning empty from her Syrian deployment. Turkish Coast Guard and maritime section of Istanbul Police Department is escorting her, as they do to all Russian ships recently.

Fully loaded, Russian landing ship Minsk mainking a southbound passage through Istanbul Strait. Photo: Yörük Işık.

Fully loaded, Russian landing ship Minsk making a southbound passage through Istanbul Strait. Photo: Yörük Işık.

Romanain frigate Regine Maria making a rare southbound passage through Istanbul. The reason of her deployment is not know.

Romanian frigate Regina Maria making a rare southbound passage through Istanbul. The reason of her deployment is not know.

Russian landing ship Saratov, loaded with trucks is heading to Syria. Photo: Yörük Işık.

Russian landing ship Saratov, loaded with trucks is heading to Syria. Photo: Yörük Işık.

Russian corvette Ze

Russian corvette Zeleny Dol returned to the Black Sea. She was deployed to Syria on 14 February 2016. She was relived by her sister Serpukhov. Photo: Serhat Güvenç.

The list of the foreign warships passed through Istanbul Strait is here.

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