The Ukrainian interior, especially the border separating the west and east of the country, is witnessing a dangerous tension, which many expect will turn into hot confrontations between Ukraine backed by America and some European countries and Russia that support separatists in the east of the country, who in 2014 declared autonomy in the republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
This tension acquires additional importance with the approaching date of the exercises scheduled to take place next month, with the participation of Ukrainian forces and NATO units, the largest of their kind since the fall of the Soviet Union. Moscow sees in these maneuvers, which bear the name ‘Defending Europe – 21’, as a direct threat, because they will include the Black Sea and the North Baltic Seas, which are potential hotbeds of confrontation between Russia and NATO.
All this comes as Washington continues its relentless efforts to include Ukraine and Georgia in the (NATO) alliance before the end of this year, after it included in 2004 both Bulgaria and Romania to it, in an attempt to tighten the blockade on Russia in the Black Sea, which Turkey also overlooks.
President Biden called his Ukrainian counterpart Zalinsky (a Jew and a friend of Netanyahu), and after that the contacts made by the defense and foreign ministers, the chief of staff, and the secretary-general of the US National Security Council with their Ukrainian counterparts this week, to prove the seriousness of the situation in the region, after Washington confirmed its absolute support for Ukraine in its crisis with Russia.
The Russian response to these US-Ukrainian provocations was not late, Moscow mobilized very large forces in the region, and large naval maneuvers began in the Crimea and the Krasnodar region in southeastern Ukraine and in the northern Black Sea.
The timing of the Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Shantop’s speech about President Erdogan’s powers to withdraw from the Montreux Convention gained additional importance, because it coincided with the escalation between Moscow and Washington, and sparked a new debate in the Turkish, Russian and Western streets, as 120 retired Turkish diplomats signed, and after them 103 admirals retirees, on two separate statements in which they denounced Shantop’s words, and said: ‘The withdrawal from the Montreux Agreement puts Turkey in front of new and dangerous challenges in its foreign policy, and forces it to align itself with one of the parties to the conflict in the region.
The response came quickly from Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu and Fakhruddin Altun, spokesman for President Erdogan, who accused the admirals of ‘seeking a new coup attempt. While the Public Prosecutor filed an urgent lawsuit against the signatories of the Military personnel’s statement, the leader of the National Movement Party, Devlet Bakhsali, Erdogan’s ally, demanded that they be tried and their pensions cut off. Some see this discussion as an introduction to what Erdogan is preparing for with regard to the straits and raising the level of bargaining with President Putin.
The ‘Montreux Convention’ of 1936 recognized Turkey’s ownership of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles straits while ensuring freedom of commercial navigation in them for all ships, and set strict conditions for the passage of warships owned by countries not bordering the Black Sea through these straits. Washington does not hide its dissatisfaction with this convention, and since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has been planning to send the largest possible number of its warships to the Black Sea and the bases it is now seeking to establish in Bulgaria and Romania, and later Ukraine and Georgia.
With Turkey’s support for this American scheme, Russian warships will find themselves in a difficult situation en route to and from the Mediterranean. Russian diplomatic circles have considered the Istanbul channel that Erdogan seeks to split between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, parallel to the Bosphorus, as an attempt by Ankara to circumvent the ‘Montreux Convention’, so that American and (North) Atlantic warships can pass through this channel in the quantity and sizes they want, far from the conditions of the Montreux Convention.
All these facts make Turkey, directly or indirectly, an important party in the possible hot confrontations in Ukraine, given Ankara’s intertwined strategic relations with Kiev, especially in the field of war industries, especially the jet engines for drones and advanced missiles. In addition to this, the Turkish religious and national interest in the Crimea region, which Muslims make up about 15% of its population, with their bad memories during the communist Soviet rule, the ideological enemy of the Turkish state, which is the heir to the Ottoman Empire, which is the historical enemy of the Russian Empire.
Whatever the potential developments in the Ukrainian crisis and their implications for the Turkish role in the Black Sea region, with their complex calculations, Moscow and Washington (and their European allies) do not neglect their other regional and international accounts in the Mediterranean and Red Sea regions, especially with the continuation of the Syrian, Yemeni, Somali and Libyan crises, and their repercussions on the balance of power in the basins of the Straits of Hormuz, Bab el-Mandeb and the Eastern Mediterranean, where ‘Israel’ is present, which borders Jordan with its recent surprising events.
Here, the recent Russian-Iranian-Chinese moves with their various elements gain additional importance, because they disturbed and worried Western capitals, which found themselves forced, even in their last attempt, to distance Tehran from this alliance, by returning to the nuclear agreement as soon as possible.
Washington and Western capitals believe that this may help them to devote themselves to the Ukraine crisis, and then to similar issues in other regions, through which it aims to tighten the siege on Russia in its backyards in Central Asia and the Caucasus, where Georgia and Azerbaijan have direct links with Turkey.
It has become clear that, with all its geostrategic advantages, it will be the arena of competition, and perhaps direct and indirect future conflict between Washington and Moscow, as they race together to gain more positions in its arena, which supports President Erdogan’s position externally, because his accounts have become intertwined in Syria and Karabakh with Russia, and its ally Iran, it will also support his projects and plans internally to stay in power forever, thanks to US and European economic and financial support. Without this, he cannot achieve anything.
The bet remains on the content of the phone call that the Turkish president is waiting for from President Biden, for which many have written many different scenarios that will have their results reflected on the overall US-Russian competitions. This possibility will raise the bargaining ceiling between Erdogan and both Putin and Biden, whoever pays the most will win Turkey on his side or prevent it from allying with his enemy.