If Putin keeps escalating, Turkey will close the straits
If Putin keeps escalating, Turkey will close the straits

Putin is close to boxing himself into the Black Sea with the full might of NATO standing behind a Turkish closure of the Bosphorus Straits and the Dardenelles under the 1936 Montreux Convention.  The “military” provisions of the Montreux Convention were never really fully engaged during World WarII because Turkey was always technically neutral.  With the critical loss of Iraq to Great Britain in the Nazi’s failed Golden Square Coup attempt in May 1941, and Churchill’s concomitant capture and occupation of Iraq, Hitler never had the order of battle available to fight with Turkey. 

However, with Putin escalating his war of words against Turkey, Turkey may very well invoke articles 20 or 21 of the Montreux Convention which would mean Turkey could immediately shut-down any Russian military naval vessel through the Straits, crippling Putin’s Syrian War efforts.  Therefore, Putin would be well advised to dampen-down his rhetoric, and start fighting the Islamic State instead of Turkish, Saudi, and Western-backed Syrian Rebels.

First, the key provisions of the Montreux Convention are the war-time provisions of 20 and 21 where Turkey is a “belligerent.”  Articles 20 and 21 state:

“Article 20.

In time of war, Turkey being belligerent, the provisions of Articles 10 to 18 shall not be applicable; the passage of warships shall be left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish Government.

Article 21.

Should Turkey consider herself to be threatened with imminent danger of war she shall have the right to apply the provisions of Article 20 of the present Convention. . . . .”

Turkey’s hand is much stronger than Putin’s words.
“Articles 10 to 18” are the articles that allow for various states including Russia to transit military ships through the straits.  In short, if Turkey invokes either Article 20 or Article 21, Russia is legally blocked from moving any military ship through the Straits.  That is unless the Russians attack the Straits, and force a transit by military force, a clear act of war against Turkey. By Turkey “non-violently” invoking Montreux Article 20 or 21, Turkey could force Russia to act violently against Turkey.  Turkey could “non-aggressively” force Russia to the “aggressor.”

The Montreux “Time of War” Article 20 is an absolute provision in that if Turkey in an actual “belligerent” state of war with Russia, it has plenipotentiary rights to shut Russian military naval transit down.  This would effectively cripple Russia’s entire Syrian adventure, and bring an immediate rout against Assad, and the Russian expeditionary force in Syria. 

However, the more likely provision to be first triggered by Turkey is Montreux Article 21 that says: “Should Turkey consider herself threatened with imminent danger of war”.  Article 21 is not a plenipotentiary absolute provision, as if over two-thirds of the UN Security Counsel votes against Turkey’s “fears” of “imminent danger,” the Straits could be re-opened.  However, the Straits would be closed to Russian Naval transit during the period before and up to any UN vote possibly taking place.  And, during that pre-vote period, Assad’s forces would be effectively routed. And with the mere “threat of imminent danger,” Turkey could invoke Article 21.

Critically, the Montreux Convention was entered into in 1936, and Turkey entered into NATO in 1952 when Greece also acceded to the NATO defensive ring.  Therefore, Turkey’s Montreux Convention sovereign rights were an inextricable element of Turkey’s territorial integrity that NATO is sworn to defend under the mutual defense treaty.  Consequently, if Russia makes any attempts to militarily bust through the Bosphorus Straits and the Dardenelles, it would clearly be committing an act of war against Turkey that NATO would be called upon, and obligated, to defend.

Russia’s Syrian adventure rests on its naval supply line through the Bosphorus Straits and the Dardenelles.Turkey can and would shut that line down without firing a shot.  Putin should reassess his short-term and long-term military and political goals before he begins to threaten the country that controls his military access to the mini-war in Syria. 

Turkey’s hand is much stronger than Putin’s words.  Let’s all hope the reality of a Bosphorus Straits/Dardenelles closure by Turkey brings Putin back to the reality that he is supporting the two greatest state sponsors of terror –Iran and Syria- in a war that is supposedly being waged against terrorists.