With the hot developments in Ukraine and their possible repercussions on Ankara’s relationship with Moscow and Washington, which I have talked about in more than one article during the past months, US President Joe Biden asked Congress for $ 715 billion to confront Russian and Chinese threats, at a time when the Pentagon announced that it would send two warships to the Black Sea, with an emphasis on keeping these ships and others in the region due to the Ukrainian crisis, which contradicts the ‘Montreux’ agreement of 1936, which prohibits ships of countries without shoring the aforementioned sea from staying in the region for more than 3 weeks.
Russian President Vladimir Putin did not delay in calling President Erdogan on Friday (09 April) to assure him ‘the necessity of adhering to the aforementioned agreement,’ and the conversation included, according to the Kremlin’s statement, ‘all the issues of concern to the two countries, especially Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh’, which means that the conversation Between Putin and Erdogan was very heated!
The surprise visit of the Ukrainian President Zelinsky (of Jewish origin and his relations with Erdogan is distinguished) to Ankara, on Saturday, to prove the extent of the importance of the Turkish role in the overall developments of the Black Sea and the Turkish Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, as these two straits were under absolute Ottoman sovereignty since the conquest of Istanbul in the year 1453 until the year 1809 with the beginning of the era of the decline of the Ottoman Empire. After this date, Istanbul was forced to sign bilateral agreements with many countries, including Russia, to legalize the terms of navigation through them.
The Ottoman Empire lost the right of sovereignty over them after the Treaty of London of 1841, the situation ended with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the occupation by the victorious countries in the First World War, namely Britain, France, Italy, Greece, and Russia, most of the current Turkish lands, and imposing their control over the two straits, which were among the most important reasons for the Ottoman Empire’s involvement in the war, Istanbul signed a secret alliance agreement with Berlin on August 2, 1914, under which it pledged to stand by Germany in the event that it declared war against Russia.
After 3 months of this agreement, the Ottoman Empire sent the two ships Yavuz and Medelli, which it bought from Germany to the Black Sea, with parts of the military fleet, and, starting from October 29, 1914, it bombed many Russian sites in the northern Black Sea and most cities and military sites, the commercial ports of Novorossiysk, Sevastopol, Odesa, the Crimea and the Kerch Strait, which connects between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, are all now strategic locations in the Russian-Ukrainian tension.
Germany did not delay in supporting the Ottoman ships, sending a number of its submarines to the Black Sea, but not by sea, but by land, and the parts of these submarines were transported from Germany to Romania, to be collected in the Romanian port of Kostinga, which was the headquarters of these submarines that caused severe damage to the Russian warships.
The response came quickly from Russia, which launched comprehensive ground attacks supported by naval movements, which ultimately ended with the destruction of German submarines and most of the Ottoman fleet’s pieces in the Black Sea, and this was followed by the Russians ’occupation of all Turkish cities bordering the Black Sea and up to the Bosphorus.
With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire and its ally Germany, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles straits were placed in the Mundros Convention under the tutelage of the victorious countries, until the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne was signed, under which the Western countries recognized the independence of the modern Turkish republic. The Straits issue was part of this agreement, which recognized Turkey’s sovereignty over it, while ensuring freedom of commercial and military navigation for all countries, according to conditions determined by an international committee formed for this purpose.
The Montreux Convention of 1936 came to affirm the right of absolute Turkish sovereignty over the two straits while ensuring freedom of passage for all merchant ships, and according to specific conditions for warships that cannot pass through them and remain in the Black Sea for more than 3 weeks, unless they are the property of one of the Countries bordering the aforementioned sea.
The agreement also recognizes Turkey’s right to close the two straits in the event of any war between the countries bordering the Black Sea and other countries, a condition that seems to be the cause of the current crisis and the ongoing debate about the Istanbul Canal, which will connect the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, and parallel to the Bosphorus.
Moscow sees this canal (and there may be a second channel linking the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea) as a Turkish attempt to circumvent the ‘Montreux’ agreement so that American ships can enter the Black Sea whenever they want, and in any form, away from the terms of the ‘Montreux’ agreement.
It was the cause of a heated internal debate after the statement signed by 104 retired admirals, in which they expressed ‘their concern about the Istanbul Canal project,’ and the opposition said about it, ‘It is an attempt by President Erdogan to woo Washington, which proposed the establishment of this waterway in 2006, during a meeting between Condoleezza Rice, and then foreign minister Abdullah Gul. ‘
Retired Admiral Samih Shatin described the admirals’ statement as “a political play that Erdogan wanted to exploit in his accounts with Russia and America.” He said: “Among the admirals who signed the statement were collaborators with Erdogan, who changed the title of the statement and leaked it two days before its scheduled date after agreeing in advance with one of the ministers about its content. ‘
The admirals, and before them 126 retired diplomats and 98 former members of parliament, did not forget “to remind President Erdogan of the lessons of the past regarding the Black Sea adventures and hostility to the Soviet Union. Without it (USSR), Mustafa Kemal Ataturk would not have been able to defeat the colonial countries during the War of Independence for the period extending between 1919 – 1923 ‘.
During this war, Lenin provided great support to Ataturk, which was not enough to guarantee the friendship of Turkey, which was not late in joining the Western alliance after World War II, although it was neutral during it. This neutrality was a sufficient reason for Ankara, which in 1941 rejected a request from Berlin, to send 6 of its submarines to the Black Sea to take revenge on the Russians for what they did with its ships in the First World War.
This Turkish refusal, and Ankara’s invocation of it with the ‘Montreux’ convention, was sufficient reason for Berlin, which transported the aforementioned submarine parts by land from Hamburg to the port of Kostanga in Romania, as it did in the First World War when they were collected and landed in the Black Sea. It carried out 56 major operations against Russian targets for the period between 1942 and 1944, which led to the destruction of dozens of Russian warships and merchant ships.
With Romania’s declaration of war on Germany, Russian ships were able to destroy 3 submarines, while the commander of the German fleet was forced to order their crews to leave before detonating them after Turkey refused to allow them to pass from the Bosporus and the Dardanelles until they reach Greece, which was then under German occupation.
The writer of the Turkish national anthem, Muhammad Akef, says: ‘They say about history that it repeats itself. If lessons were drawn from it, it would not repeat itself.’ So, the question here is: Will lessons be drawn from the stories of the Black Sea for the last hundred years alone, without going back to the history of Russian-Ottoman relations, which witnessed 16 raging wars between the two sides, most of them in the Black Sea, and of which the Russians won 11 wars? Who will draw these lessons?
This historical hostility between the Turks and Russia, and later the Soviet Union, was a major reason for Turkey joining NATO and allowing America to establish dozens of naval, land, and air bases with its nuclear bombs on its territory, after Washington made it a front outpost to defend the capitalist West and prevent the Communist Russian bear from going to the warm waters. ‘
The bet, and perhaps the last one, remain on the accounts of President Erdogan, who is accused by the opposition parties of ‘implicating Turkey in new adventures that differ greatly from those it is suffering in Syria, Libya, Somalia, Iraq, the Eastern Mediterranean, and other regions,’ this time the adventurous parties are two superpowers, This is, of course, if he does not think to exploit this hostility with his own methods, otherwise, he has only to draw lessons from the pages of history, and take into accounts a thousand times the Russian bear, about which it is said that it does not wake up from its deep slumber, whatever you do with it, but if it wakes up and gets out of its cave, it will not calm down and return to sleep until it ensures that it is not disturbed anymore.’
As for the words of former President Esmat Inonu during Turkey’s crisis with Washington on the issue of Cyprus in 1964, he said: “The relationship with the large countries is like sleeping in one bed side by side with a bear, your eyes must always be wide open or else!’