Two Naval Run-Ins Further Inflame Turkish-Russian Tensions
Russian warships and Turkish commercial vessels have had run-ins on consecutive days, adding to tension between the rival powers.
On Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that one of its destroyers in the Aegean Sea was forced to fire warning shots at a Turkish fishing boat because the boat was approaching dangerously close to the warship. The MoD immediately summoned Turkey's naval attache to Moscow after that incident.
Then on Monday, a Russian corvette and coast guard boat forced a Turkish commercial ship in the Black Sea to change course because it was in the way of a Russian oil-rig towing boat.
Amid tensions between the two countries as a result of last month's Turkish shootdown of a Russian jet on the Turkey-Syria border, both sides accused the other of trying to provoke them.
"Ours was only a fishing boat. It seems to me the reaction of the Russian naval ship was exaggerated," said Turkey's foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, referring to Sunday's incident. "Russia and Turkey certainly have to re-establish the relationship of trust that we have always had, but our patience has a limit," Cavusoglu said.
"I suppose the plan could have been designed by the Erdogan team to present Russia as an aggressor if the incident ended in a tragedy," Colonel General (Retired) Leonid Ivashov told REN TV, adding that Turkish authorities would have benefited from a deadly outcome, reported Russia's Sputnik news agency. He went on to suggest that the provocation could have been aimed at justifying Turkey's "closing the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits for the Russian ships."
“In this situation there are only two explanations: either it is carelessness and disregard for safety of navigation on part of the captain of the Turkish vessel, who it seems never leaves his cabin," an anonymous Russian MoD source told Sputnik. "Or it is a planned but clumsily organized provocation against the Russian military ship, which in the case of a collision would have received damage requiring repairs in the factory... Removal of a frigate ship even just for a few months is a serious breach in the overall security system of the country.”
And a senior Russian lawmaker threatened that Russia could act more forcefully in the case of a similar future incident. "If the Turkish vessel is obliged to follow some requirements, which it doesn't follow, we shouldn't hold back, we should act according to the law regulating what we're doing here, and that's all," said Leonid Kalashnikov, deputy head of the international affairs committee of the Russian state Duma.
Meanwhile, the captain of the Turkish fishing boat says he didn't even realize he was being fired at, or that the ship in question was Russian. "It's a lie. There is no such thing," the captain, Muzaffer Gecici, told Turkish media. "We passed within a mile of a warship which was at anchor. We didn't even know that it was a Russian ship, we thought it was a NATO ship. We didn't realise we had been fired at."
And a meeting for the two countries' presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, scheduled for Tuesday in St. Petersburg, has been canceled, Putin's spokesman said Monday.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.