Turkey’s Black Sea Predicament

Today, the President of Turkey is expected to give a speech on the natural gas resource in the Black Sea. Let’s take a look at the importance of the Black Sea to Turkey. Is it challenging or accommodating Russia?

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Fatih Drillship, which located in the Black Sea.

History

Until 1918, Russia and the Ottomans fought twelve times.

However, Moscow’s economic and military support for the Turkish War of Independence in Anatolia started a brand new period in Turkish-Russian relations.

Eventually, during the 1920s and 1930s, the Black Sea became a region of cooperation between the two countries in parallel with their improved political and economic ties.

Milestones

1991: Collapse of the Soviet Union; Provided fresh opportunities for dialogue.
2008: Russian-Georgian War; Urged Turkish leaders to revise their Black Sea Policies.
2014: Russia’s Annexation of Crimea; Turkey criticized and did not recognize the annexation.
2015: Turkish-Russian disagreement over Syria; Triggered a serious crisis between the two countries.

Evolution

Turkey’s policy in the Black Sea in the post-Cold War period was shaped by its desire to develop a regional cooperation scheme together with the Black Sea countries rather than its Western allies.

This so-called “regional ownership” approach brought Turkey’s position closer to that of Russia.

The Black Sea Economic Cooperation, which was established in 1992.
In 2001, blackseafor was founded by Turkey and other Black Sea countries.
Operation Black Sea Harmony was launched in March 2004.

Challenging

The annexation of Crimea in March 2014 tilted the strategic balance in the Black Sea in Russia’s favor, as Moscow started to directly control the Sevastopol naval base.

In 2014, Moscow announced its plans to spend more than 2 billion dollars by 2020 to bolster the fleet. Also, in August 2016, Russia deployed the S-400 system in Crimea.

Sustaining the Turkish-Russian modus vivendi in the Black Sea became even more difficult after September 2015, when Russia started direct airstrikes in Syria.

Fighter Jet Crisis

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Russian Sukhoi Su-24

November 2015: TAF shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Turkish-Syrian border due to its violation of Turkish airspace.

November 2015: Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev announced broad economic sanctions against Turkey.

August 2016: Erdoğan and Putin discussed closer ties in the first meeting since jet downing.

Normalization Process

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Putin and Erdogan

The failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15 suddenly gave new meaning to the Turkish-Russian reconciliation process. Moscow expressed strong support for the Turkish government, while the official reactions of Turkey’s NATO allies were unexpectedly hesitant and mixed.

After the first meeting in 2016, two leaders met many more times and frequently spoke on the phone, particularly regarding the situation in Syria.

Besides, Ankara expressed its interest in purchasing Russia’s S-400 system to develop its national missile defense, despite the concerns of the NATO officials.

Turkish-Russian relations also rapidly developed in the military sphere. The most important outcome of this military development was Turkey’s “Operation Euphrates Shield,” launched in August 2016.

Also, the Turkish Navy and the Russian Black Sea fleet held joint exercises in April 2017.

Despite these signs of cooperation, it should be noted that Turkey chose to join the Sea Shield 2017 naval exercise with other NATO countries, even though Russian officials criticized the activity.

NATO in the Black Sea

The success of NATO’s strategy in the Black Sea above all depends on the close cooperation of the three NATO members in the region.

However, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey have so far failed to unite their efforts in building joint defenses and developing a common framework for security and threat assessment in the Black Sea.

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Although the Turkish public remains strongly skeptical about relations with NATO in the wake of the July 15 coup attempt, it can be argued that Ankara is very much concerned about the increasing Russian military presence in the Black Sea.

Conclusion and Future

Rising tensions between NATO and Russia have weakened efforts to enhance the security and stability of the Black Sea region. Both Moscow and NATO are seeking to strengthen their military presence in the area.

In its effort to keep the Black Sea a stable maritime domain, Turkey has traditionally preferred collective security mechanisms involving the littoral states in the region.

Turkey has lost its naval superiority in the Black Sea to Russia since 2014, so radically altered strategic balance urges Turkey to revise its approach. The delicate Montreux balance, which Ankara sought to maintain for so many years, has been significantly changed by Russia’s accelerated military buildup in the region.

The tripartite official meetings and regional cooperation platforms may still be vital in managing the disagreements between Turkey and Russia.

Such mechanisms can be utilized more efficiently to achieve a breakthrough in the resolution of the regional conflicts of the Black Sea.

Turkish Policy

1. Maintaining the status quo established by the Montreux Convention.

2. Protecting its interests vis-à-vis Russia’s strengthened military presence in the Black Sea.

3. Dealing with the significant security implications of the three Russian A2/AD spheres built around Turkish territories.

4. Accommodating the various Black Sea policies of its NATO allies without alienating Russia.

Turkey’s natural gas reserves which discovered in the exclusive economic zone is an indication of the success of the Turkish Maritime Policy.

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Turkey’s Blue Homeland

SSUA

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