US sending two warships to Black Sea amid Montreux Convention debate

The United States has sent diplomatic notification to Turkey for the passage of its two warships through the Turkish straits, Ankara said on April 9. The U.S.'s move comes amid a debate over whether Turkish President Recep Erdoğan will pull the country out of the 1936 Montreux Convention regulating the use of Turkish straits.

USS Ross (DDG-71) enters the Black Sea via the Bosporus on Feb. 23, 2020. (Photo by Yörük Işık)

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The United States has informed Turkey that two of its warships will pass through Turkish straits to be deployed in the Black Sea until May 4, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on April 9. 

"A notice was sent to us 15 days ago via diplomatic channels that two U.S. warships would pass to the Black Sea in line with the Montreux Convention. The ships will remain in the Black Sea until May 4," the ministry said.

The 1936 Montreux Convention gives Turkey control over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, limits access of naval warships and governs foreign cargo ships.

The ministry's statement came a day after a U.S. defense official told CNN that the United States is considering sending warships into the Black Sea in the next few weeks. 

The U.S. official said on April 8 that the move is a show of support for Ukraine as Russia has been increasing its military presence on Ukraine's eastern border.

The Pentagon and U.S. State Department have recently expressed their concern about Russia's increasing influence in the region.

"We are concerned by recent escalating Russian aggressions in eastern Ukraine, including the credible reports that have been emanating about Russian troop movements on Ukraine's borders and occupied Crimea," U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said earlier this week.

"We have asked Russia for an explanation of these provocations, but most importantly what we have signaled directly with our Ukrainian partners is a message of reassurance," he said.

The U.S.'s move comes as the possibility of Turkey's leaving the Montreux Convention has been recently raised during discussions about the construction of Istanbul Kanal, which is an artificial shipping canal project that aims to connect the Black Sea to the Marmara.

Kanal Istanbul has been President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's "crazy project." His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) says it will ease shipping traffic on the Bosphorus Strait, one of the world's busiest maritime passages, and prevent accidents.

The controversial project has triggered a debate on the revision of the 1936 Montreux Convention, with 104 retired Turkish admirals releasing a statement on April 3 to warn the government. 

“Kanal Istanbul will open the Montreux Convention to discussion, and will lead to Turkey’s loss of absolute sovereignty over the Sea of ​​Marmara,” their statement read. 

Erdoğan said on April 5 that although his ruling AKP government currently does not have "any efforts or intention to leave the Montreux Convention," it will not hesitate to review it in the future should such a necessity arise.