NATO state issues warning to bloc's members
Ankara is striving to maintain “balance” in the Black Sea, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has said, warning its NATO allies against ramping up tension in the region. The minister made the remarks in an interview published by the Hurriyet newspaper on Monday.
“We want the balance not to be broken here [in the Black Sea], within the scope of the principle of regional ownership and the domination of the situation by the littoral countries,” Akar stated.
If the balance deteriorates, the probability of events getting out of control is very high. Let’s not turn the Black Sea into an environment of competition. That’s what we’re saying openly.
Akar reiterated Ankara’s stance on the passage of warships through the Black Sea straits, insisting it will stick to the Montreux Convention, which allows Turkey to regulate maritime traffic through the straits during times of war. Ankara closed the routes for Russian and Ukrainian military vessels shortly after the conflict between the two countries broke out late in February.
As the US-led NATO supports Ukraine in the ongoing conflict, Ankara has urged the military bloc's vessels to also steer clear of the Black Sea until the hostilities are over, Akar noted, urging the country’s allies not to try Turkey’s resolve to enforce the Convention.
“We recommend not to come as long as the war continues, we graciously suggest... We say this without the need for the Montreux Convention,” Akar said.
The official also voiced his opposition towards the idea of establishing a NATO taskforce in the region, proposed by Washington last year. While the idea of a maritime force is supported by Romania and Bulgaria, two other Black Sea countries that are NATO members, Ankara opposes the initiative, he said.
“We tell Bulgaria and Romania to act with restraint,” Akar stated, adding that “stability” in the Black Sea can be maintained only if all parties in the region avoid provoking one another.
“We have some suggestions for maintaining the stability of the Black Sea: Do not get excited, do not get panicked. It may cause panic on the other side, as well,” he stressed. “Misinformation can lead to misunderstanding. Let’s respect Ukraine’s borders and sovereignty, but on the other hand let’s not do anything that can be perceived as provocation on the other side.”
Turkey has observed a neutral position in the ongoing conflict, trying to maintain ties with both Kiev and Moscow and seeking to become a mediator in the ongoing conflict. In late March, Turkey hosted high-profile Russia-Ukraine talks in Istanbul. While both sides signaled certain progress after the negotiations, the talks have ultimately failed to yield any tangible result and the hostilities continue.
Russia attacked its neighbor following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, signed in 2014, and Moscow’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German and French brokered Minsk Protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.