Erdogan, In Plea To NATO, Says Black Sea Has Become "Russian Lake"
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a greater NATO presence in the Black Sea to counter Russia, potentially representing a policy shift for Ankara, which has traditionally jealously guarded its role as the sole Western power on the sea.
Speaking at a Balkan security conference in Istanbul, Erdogan complained that the sea has become a "Russian lake":
We should enhance our coordination and cooperation in the Black Sea. We hope for concrete results from the NATO summit in Warsaw on July 8, 9… The Black Sea should be turned into the sea of stability. I told the NATO secretary general that you are absent in the Black Sea and that is why it has nearly become a Russian lake. We should perform our duty as we are the countries with access to the Black Sea. If we do not take action, history will not forgive us.
Erdogan seemed to be referring to a Romania-led proposal to create a sort of NATO Black Sea Fleet, which has gained momentum with an endorsement last month by the United States.
But Turkey's support comes as somewhat of a surprise. Turkey historically has tended to be wary of any outside presence on the Black Sea, even by its NATO allies. Access to the sea is regulated by the 1938 Montreux Convention, which limits the duration of visits by military ships from non-littoral states. While some of Turkey's allies, like the U.S., have pushed for loosening the convention, Turkey has held firm. And while this new NATO proposal doesn't necessarily envisage changing the Montreux Convention -- something Russia would block anyway -- it would still represent a substantial shift for Turkey.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.
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