Mines in Black Sea: A Provocation for Turkey?

The stray mines that spread to the Black Sea with the Ukrainian war are neutralized by the Turkish Underwater Defense (SAS) commandos.

The fishermen from Turkey’s BlackSea cost told the press on April 9 that the Coast Guard Command had warned them not to sail because of the stray mines offshore. Two weeks before, on March 26, a maritime patrol detected a mine offshore Western Black Sea, which later be neutralized by the Underwater Defense (SAS) commandos. The Bosphorus was closed to traffic for a while.

A day after the fishermen were cautioned against stray mines, the brief that Minister of National Defense Hulusi Akar gave to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) Board Meeting about the mines in the Black Sea was in newspapers.

“We have doubts whether the mines were left intentionally,” Akar told AKP Board at April 4 meeting, the Hürriyet reported on April 10.

“These mines may have been left within a plan for NATO minesweepers to enter the Black Sea. To put us into a difficult position,” he added reiterating that despite these efforts “to corner Turkey”, Ankara would continue to apply the provisions of the Montreux Convention and would not let warships into the Black Sea.

Suspicion over the mines

Akar attended Doha Forum, on March 28, two days after the SAS commandos neutralized the mine in the Black Sea, and said Turkey would not make concessions from Montreux Convention. In the written statement made by the Ministry of National Defense on April 1, Ankara’s position was reiterated.

The reason behind Turkey’s suspicion can be found in the backstage report of daily Hürriyet columnist Nuray Babacan. According to Babacan, Defence Minister Akar said that “these mines normally lock themselves when they break away from their ropes. But we saw that the mines that were destroyed in the Black Sea do not have such a system. Is it the case that these mines are left like that on purpose? We are investigating.”

Who wants Turkey and NATO in the war?

The investigation is ongoing and it requires intelligence work, as Turkish maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters patrol the Black Sea and the Straits while diplomacy continues.
Akar held a 6-party video conference on April 7 with the Defence Ministers of riparian states Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia, as well as Poland with whom he has been in close cooperation in the Ukraine Crisis. Among these countries, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland are also NATO members. On the same day, Akar also spoke on the phone with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, who did not want to attend the same video conference with Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.

The statement emphasized the efforts of ceasefire and the evacuation of civilians. But mines were also a topic of discussion. No results yielded yet. As Russia and Ukraine continue to blame each other, an estimated 400 stray mines threaten Black Sea security.
The first suspect is Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky openly demands that NATO formally enter the war on their side against Russia. It is also true that all the gun and oil lobbies in the world hope to gain from the expansion of the war.

Russia, NATO, USA

On the other hand, some countries anticipate a long-term benefit from Turkey’s breach of the Montreux Convention, even if NATO does not enter the war.

Russia does not want Montreux to be breached in the long run. It is already conducting a ground-air operation reinforced with militia forces in Ukraine, not naval warfare. However, Russia wants Turkey to come face to face with the United States within NATO. It is also known that some NATO allies, such as the USA and the UK, who are pleased with the implementation of Montreux due to Turkey’s blocking of Russian warships, were also against Montreux before – due to the restriction of their exit to the Black Sea.

An equation with multiple variables.

On the other hand, it is also seen that Turkey has started to form cooperations within NATO that are not dependent on the USA. Akar’s meeting with British Defense Minister Ben Wallace and Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini in Istanbul on April 8 is an example of this.

The first of these meetings was held in Sicily, Italy last year. At this meeting, not only Ukraine and mines were on the agenda. The parties also discussed joint defence industry projects.

Evacuation of civilians

Black Sea security does not only threaten the urban traffic of the Bosphorus, the merchant ships carrying grain and grain from Turkey to Mediterranean countries through the Straits, and the fishermen. The evacuation of civilians trapped by the war was also a problem. In this situation, the airline is the safest option. Turkey has long made diplomatic efforts to evacuate Turkish (as well as French and Greek) citizens trapped in Mariupol under attack by Russian troops. For this purpose, two A-400 transport aircraft belonging to the Turkish Air Force were sent to Borispol airport. While waiting, Ankara is in contact with both Russian and Ukrainian authorities to prevent damage to this airport and aircraft.

Hopes for a moderation between Russia and Ukraine increased after the two party meet in Istanbul on March 29. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan repeated his invitation for the Putin-Zelensky meeting. However, the images of the massacre in Bucha changed the atmosphere. Çavuşoğlu said that Bucha delayed the possibility of peace. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg began to talk about the possibility of a prolongation of the war. Now, the worry about stray mines and Turkey’s provocation to pull into the war… Things are getting more complicated.

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