ANKARA (Reuters) – Russia cancelled a bid to send four of its warships through Turkish waters into the Black Sea at Turkey’s request, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, adding the decision was made before Ankara closed the straits over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
NATO ally Turkey borders Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea and has good ties with both. On Monday, Ankara said it had closed its Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits under a 1936 pact, allowing it to curb some Russian vessels crossing. The pact exempts vessels returning to their bases.
Cavusoglu told broadcaster Haberturk late on Tuesday that Turkey had asked Russia not to send its ships through before it labelled Moscow’s invasion a “war” on Sunday, legally allowing it to curb passages under the Montreux Convention.
“Russia has said four of its ships would cross the straits on Feb 27-28, three of which are not registered to bases in the Black Sea,” Cavusoglu said. “We told Russia not to send these ships and Russia said the vessels would not cross the straits.”
“Nobody should be offended by this, because the Montreux Convention is valid today, yesterday and tomorrow, so we will implement it,” he said.
Reuters reported earlier this week that at least four Russian ships – two destroyers, a frigate, and an intelligence vessel – were waiting on Turkey’s decision to cross from the Mediterranean. Two of them, a frigate and a destroyer, had asked to make the journey this week.
The United States “expressed appreciation” for Turkey’s move to close the straits. Ukraine’s ambassador to Ankara said Kyiv was “grateful” to Turkey for “meticulously” implementing the pact.
While calling Russia’s invasion an unacceptable violation of international law, Turkey has carefully formulated its rhetoric not to offend Moscow, with which it has close energy, defence and tourism ties. It has called for dialogue and offered to host peace talks.
Cavusoglu repeated on Tuesday that Turkey would not join its Western allies in imposing economic sanctions on Russia.
While forging close cooperation with Russia, Turkey has also sold drones to Kyiv and signed a deal to co-produce more, angering Moscow. It also opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya, as well as its 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Wednesday the country was set to receive another shipment of Turkish drones, a move likely to anger Russia.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Andrew Heavens)