Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Turkey Finalizes Plan for Canal Bypassing Bosphorus, Mulls Denouncing Montreux Convention

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 29 – Two new developments in Turkey are likely to have a profound impact on Russia and other Black Sea littoral states: Ankara announced it has finalized plans for a canal bypassing the Bosphorus after completing environmental surveys, and a prominent member of Turkey’s ruling party said Ankara may soon exit the 1936 Montreux Convention.

            The first of these means that ships will be able to enter and exit the Black Sea without going through the clogged waters of the Bosphorus; the second that Turkey may unilaterally end the restrictions on the passage of warships that the international community imposed on Ankara nearly a century ago.

            They are linked in that the new canal from the point of view of Turks would not be subject to Montreux restrictions in any case but its existence and Turkey’s increasing self-confidence and independent-mindedness means that Ankara may finally take a step many Turks have seen as demeaning.

            Two days ago, Murat Kurum, Turkey’s environmental affairs minister, tweeted that all required consultations with those living along the route of the proposed canal have been completed and the project can go forward (

            The 9.2 billion US dollar project, located 100 kilometers to the west of Istanbul, has been talked about for a decade to reduce risk of accidents in Istanbul but has not moved forward because of questions about financing and objections by Turks living in the region through which it will pass. Kurum’s statement suggests that at least the first of these has now been overcome.

Meanwhile and reacting to the criticism Turkey has received for withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention about the prevention of violence against women, Ankara has raised the possibility that it may withdraw from an agreement even more sensitive as far as much of the international community is concerned (

            That is the 1937 Montreux Convention governing the passage of warships through the Turkish straits during peacetime, limiting both the number and the tonnage of ships belonging to other than Black Sea littoral states. (For details on that agreement and what its modification or annulment might mean, see

            In remarks on Haberturk TV cited by Russia’s Rex news agency, Mustapha Septop, the speaker of Turkey’s parliament, said that his country’s president could withdraw Turkey from the Montreux Convention in the same fashion and just as easily as he has withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention.

            If Turkey were to withdraw from the convention, that would effectively mean that the accord would be a dead letter, given that the accord’s provisions govern how Turkey must treat ships passing through its waters. Consequently, even the threat to do so is likely to unsettle diplomatic waters far from its coastline.


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