Turkish President Erdogan meeting Russian President Putin in Moscow
Turkish President Erdogan meeting Russian President Putin in MoscowReuters

Ukraine’s ambassador to Ankara, the Turkish capital, has requested that Turkey close the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits to Russian warships, confining the Russian naval fleet to its base in the Black Sea.

The Straits are Russia’s only year-round access route to the Mediterranean, as its other ports are ice-bound for much of the year, and have been a focus of conflict for hundreds of years. Fighting has now spread to Odessa, a key Ukrainian port city in the country’s south. If the area falls to Russia (aka Russian separatists), Russia could potentially control Ukraine’s entire coastline.

The 1936 Montreux Convention established that Turkey alone has control over the Straits and that warships belonging to other nations may only pass through under certain conditions.

The Turkish Hurriyet reported on Thursday that Ukraine’s Ambassador to Ankara, Vasyl Bodnar, had reiterated his country’s request to bar access to the Straits to the Russians.

“We conveyed our official request to the Turkish side regarding the closure of the airspace, the Dardanelles [Strait] and Bosphorus [Strait] for Russian ships,” he said, adding that Ukraine was also asking for Turkey to impose sanctions on Russian businesses.

As the crisis escalated over the past few weeks, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made repeated proposals for a trilateral summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Turkey, including a proposal made during a visit to Kyiv earlier in February. Turkey maintains warm ties with both Russia and Ukraine which will certainly have been the focus of Thursday morning’s security summit held in Turkey.

The Guardian notes that Ukraine has been a purchaser of Turkish military materiel including its Bayraktar drones.

According to AFP, Erdoğan told journalists on a return flight from Africa on Wednesday that Turkey would seek to maintain its alliances with both Ukraine and Russia. “It is not possible for us to give up on both,” he said. “We have political and military relations with Russia. We also have political, military and economic ties with Ukraine. We want this issue to be resolved without us having to choose between the two.”

On Thursday, however, with invasion a reality, Turkey emphasized that Russia’s attack on Ukraine was “unacceptable” and “violated international law,” according to Turkish media reporting on the security summit convened that morning by President Erdoğan. Turkey reiterated its commitment to support Ukraine’s political unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.