Turkey's Trump Card: Erdogan Can Cut Russia's Syrian Supply Line By Closing Bosphorus

Tyler Durden's picture

On Saturday, Russia unveiled a raft of economic sanctions against Turkey in retaliation for Ankara’s brazen move to shoot down an Su-24 warplane near the Syrian border. Charter flights to Turkey are now banned, Turkish imports will be curbed, visa-free travel is no more, Russian tourism companies are forbidden from selling travel packages that include a stay in Turkey, and Turkish firms will face restrictions on their economic activity. 

“It’s not just Turkey that has economic interests, Russia too has economic interests in relation to Turkey,” Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu said on Saturday, adding that he hoped Putin would act in a "cool-headed" manner. 

Russia does indeed have economic interests in Turkey. Ankara paid Gazprom some $10 billion last year and Turkey accounts for nearly a third of the company's nat gas exports:

But this is most assuredly a two way street. As we noted on Saturday, Turkey is heavily dependent on Russia for energy and souring relations will put a non-trivial dent in Ankara's tourism revenues:

As we discussed on Wednesday, the idea that Turkey can easily replace Russian gas may be a pipe dream (no pun intended) despite Erdogan's grandstanding. Here's how we explained the situation facing Ankara: 

What analysts (and Erdogan) seem to be discounting here is that ties between Russia and Iran have strengthened materially over the past six months and Russia's intervention in Syria will not be forgotten in Tehran. Throw in the fact that Russia and Iran are already in talks on a number of energy projects and it seems reasonable to suspect that if Iran believes Turkey is becoming too much of an impediment to the campaign in Syria, Tehran may just decide to drive a harder bargain when it comes to gas supplies. In short: if you're Turkey, you don't really want to put yourself in a position where your fallback plan in the event you anger your biggest energy supplier is to try and negotiate for more trade with that supplier's closest geopolitical ally, especially when you are actively seeking to subvert both of their goals in a strategically important country. As WSJ put it on Wednesday, "diverting the energy trade wouldn’t be easy."

No, it most certainly would not "be easy", and the big question going forward is this: is it realistic to believe, given what's going on in Syria, that Iran will be willing to make it any easier? 

Ultimately, it's diffiult to say who has the stronger hand. Russia and Turkey - despite an otherwise tenuous relationship set against a history of confrontation (see The Czar vs. the Sultan from Foreign Policy) - have developed a lucrative trade partnership that neither side is particularly keen on scrapping. That said, the stakes are high and now that Moscow has hit back with sanctions, the ball is in Ankara's court. 

Despite bombastic rhetoric from Erdogan (whose tone has softened at bit over the last 48 or so hours), Turkey cannot shoot down another Russian warplane. If they do, they risk an outright military confrontation with Russia. So unless Erdogan intends to plunge NATO into an armed conflict with the Russians, he'll need to find other ways to retailiate and refusing to buy from Gazprom probably isn't the the first, best option from a practical point of view. 

What Turkey could do, however, is close the the Bosphorus Strait which would effectively cut Russia's supply line to Latakia.

Here's Sputnik:

Tensions between Russia and Turkey over the downing of a Russian Su-24 bomber in Syria may challenge freedom of navigation through the Bosphorus Strait, a major pathway for Russian ships. However, a Turkish unilateral ban on the passage of Russian ships is unlikely since it would violate international law.

In recent months, Russia’s heavy military equipment has been delivered to Syria mostly by sea, with the shortest route coming through the Bosphorus Strait and the Dardanelles.


A sharp rise in tensions between Moscow and Ankara may challenge the delivery of Russian weapons and troops through the straits. If passage is prohibited for Russia there is still the way through the Gibraltar (which takes 13-14 days rather than four days through the Bosphorus) or by air.

In peacetime, Turkey is obligated to allow naval warships safe passage regardless of what flag they fly. As Sputnik goes on to note however, "in times of war, the passage of warships shall be left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish government." Although one Russian lawyer who spoke to RBK claims the Turks have no legal ground to block passage, it's not difficult to imagine a scenario whereby Erdogan decides to push the issue. 

Indeed, if Ankara can disrupt Moscow's supply route to its forces in Syria, well then all the better for the FSA and all of the other proxy armies battling to hold onto territory near Aleppo in the face of the Russian and Iranian assault. 

Of course such a move would raise serious questions regarding Turkey's adherence to the 1936 Montreux Convention and would only serve to inflame tensions between Moscow and Ankara. We'll be watching closely in the days and weeks ahead for evidence that Erdogan is impeding the progress of Russian vessels through the strait and in the meantime we'd remind you that Bilal Erodgan, the President's son and patron saint of Islamic State's multi-hundred million dollar oil enterprise, has a bird's eye view of the drama (from Today's Zaman, earlier this year): 

President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an's son Bilal Erdo?an has moved his shipping company's office to a newly built four-story building with a Bosporus view in ?stanbul's Beylerbeyi neighborhood.


The Sözcü daily reported on Sunday that Bilal Erdo?an, a co-partner of a shipping company, has moved his office from Üsküdar to Beylerbeyi.


According to the claims in the report, Bilal Erdo?an purchased three plots of land on Yal?boyu Street in Beylerbeyi and constructed a four-storey company office on it. The cost of the building is estimated to be TL 340 million. The new office has a view of the Bosporus. It also has a parking lot and a courtyard.

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Oh yeah, poking someone in the eye with a sharp stick always works.

Let's kick Russia in the nuts, and steal all their oil too, while we are at it.

Worked well in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, twice.

Right ?

Right ?

BlueViolet's picture
BlueViolet (not verified) SILVERGEDDON Nov 29, 2015 9:13 PM

Correct. It won't work. Plus Turkey stands to lose billions. That's shooting itself in the foot. That'd be stupid. Besides, Erdogan might just get whacked and they'd blame Putin and WW3 would start. That's about the scenario some are predicting>> http://bit.ly/1SpGAhB

tmosley's picture

>Claiming that an act of war against a nuclear armed superpower is a trump card.


Keyser's picture

Hmm, it appears that Erdogan just announced that Turkey is at war with Russia... Let the games continue... 

quintago's picture

Please read the terms and conditions of the Montreaux agreement, and then let me know under what conditions it can be invoked.

palmereldritch's picture

Technically the English can shut down Gibraltar.

And like that...it ain't gonna happen

Gaius Frakkin' Baltar's picture

How exactly is that done? Are they bold enough to try and block a Russian missile cruiser?

The only way would be to mine the channel and end all passage.

Motasaurus's picture

All these analyses are so obviously from a soft, western persepctive. How many times have the Russians gone without, simply to prove a point? How many times have they had their economic livelihoods completely destroyed, and yet risen stronger from the ashes? How many times has Russia been pushed to the absolute brink only to turn around and claim the victory?

Turkey needs Russia more than Russia needs Turkey.

Sure, Russia stands to lose a lot by losing Turkey as a customer. But financial (and physical) harship is nothing new to the Russian people. They wear it like a badge of honour - and Putin (with a 95% approval rating) can afford to have the newly wealthy 25% hate him.

How long can Erdogen survive his people when manufacturing, heating, lighting and basic ammenities cease to function? He's facing a civil war already. How long will the Military support him when the colonels and majors all go home to a cold house full of spoiled food and a wife complaining that nothing works?

Russia will win any economic war with any country that isn't China. And the Russians know it. 

evokanivo's picture

stop pimping your website with different usernames.

Anonymous User's picture
Anonymous User (not verified) evokanivo Nov 30, 2015 4:01 AM

I see that Erdogan has an urgent ass itch. 

No problem, Putin will scratch it the hard way. 



In a different light, a showdown around Bosphorus would be useful to once and for all take that small european bank of Bosphorus out of otoman's hands.

swamp's picture

Ever heard of BRICS? And smart ass, read yet that China is entering the foray? A couple of corrupted sinking western nations playing dirty cause that is the ONLY WAY THE CHEATING WEST CAN KEEP A FOOTING.

Lore's picture

@ AngrySinner  / "King's Whore":   Please stop trolling for clickbait.

roddy6667's picture

Go back to Israel, Haim Wiesenberg!

conscious being's picture

Zionists, certain jihadis, Banksters and Ukrainian Nazis hate V.V.P. 

snowlywhite's picture

they don't have to block anything. Not that they could, legally speaking.


all Turkey needs to do, in case russians get too cocky, is ensure the "rebels" somehow discover AA missiles. Especially as the russian airforce ain't nothing to write home about. It worked in Afganistan, would work now too.


however, for the time being, since the syrian/iranian offensive didn't achieve much... guess the rebels won't discover AA :p


on the other hand, if Putin tries to be smart and help the kurds...

BarkingCat's picture

If the Turks give the mercenaries anti aircraft missiles then Russia will simply change its tactic.
Besides, how are they going to get AA batteries into Syria?
The border is now watched very well.
If a Russian plane gets shot down from Turkish territory the conflict will spread beyond Syrian border and Turkey itself will be part of the battlefield.
I seriously doubt they want an actual and direct war with Russia.
Frankly I doubt anyone wants that.

snowlywhite's picture

change it's tactic to what? send troops? it's a lost war anyway...


they have enough border to send all the AA in the world. And I'm sure there'll be some spin as to why the rebels need AA.


Don't see any reason why Turkey itsellf would get involved. Syria is a country with 75% sunni population. After so many years, the civil war inevitably evolved into a sectarian one. So whoever bets against the sunnis is just betting on the losing side. All that the Gulf states + Turkey need to do is bide for time while Iran, and now Russia, waste resources.


I don't understand the iranians. After so many millenias, they should've learnt that any stable form of Persian empire stops at the rivers and doesn't include Syria.

Motasaurus's picture

Turkey doesn't have any AA since NATO removed their patriot missiles.

BarkingCat's picture

>>>>Technically the English can shut down Gibraltar.<<<<

Theoretically Russia could shut down London.
That's also not going to happen.

Oracle 911's picture

Well You should not be so  sure. Because the Russians are demanding the payment for Ukraine's eurobonds.

And guess who is the warranter for the said bond bought on the London exchange?


So if not the entire city, then at least the city of London will be shut down.


EDIT: This demand will reset the entire fin. system:

-If nobody pays, it creates a precedent and the confidence is gone.

-If they reach a deal about the payment under new favorable conditions for Ukraine. Again precedent and the PIGS and the 3rd world nations will demand new conditions.

-If the warranter pays, the the said institutions either gone bankrupt or needs a serious bailout.


So whatever they do Putin wins. Got popcorn? :)

Tall Tom's picture

Then Wadhington DC orders Turkey to blow anther Russian Fighter Jet out of the air so we can all blame the collapse on World War Three....Whee....


And the Grand Prize is a Nuclear Winter with a consequential Global Extinction. Yeah!!! What a win for Putin...He wins!!!


Frankly I will not miss this place filled with its myopic people.

Diottica's picture

Orace911 said: "And guess who is the warranter for the said bond bought on the London exchange?"


You clearly imply that 'London' or the 'City of London' guarantees eurobonds issued by Ukraine. 

Q: Have any evidence of that?

A: No (cause it ain't true).

BuddyEffed's picture

This article looks like a ZH fluff piece. Filler on a slow day?

ZakuKommander's picture

Yes.  "Cut the supply line to Syria" literally means, "there's no way to get supplies via sea to Syria."

If Russia had to ship goods via sea, Russia has many alternatives besides the Black Sea.  Russia has ports that can ship via the Atlantic or Pacific.  Yes, it would take longer, but the fact remains that supplies that require sea transit can make their way to the Mediterranean by routes other than the Bosphorus.

robertocarlos's picture

But it's much easier to nuke Turkey and reopen the Bos.

quadraspleen's picture

They'll just build more airplanes and fly the shit there in smaller batches. Or break through any very unlikely blockade. How would they do it? Build a wall? Mine the channel? I don't think so. Anyway, Putin doesn't give a shit what Erdogan does now. He's on a roll.

MalteseFalcon's picture

Can't help but feel that Putin has anticipated this.

Should be interesting.

conscious being's picture

He has. First, there's that Montreaux Convention. Turkey knows breaking the conention is an act of war. Second, see Roberto Carlos, above.

grgy's picture

Alex Mercouris has just written a very good article on this subject. http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/actually-russia-winning-syria/ri11503


rbg81's picture

Does Erdogan know what a suitcase nuke is?

SilverRhino's picture

Fuck the suitcase nukes.  Erdogan better get updated quick on what an SS-18 Mod4 can do to a city (25 MT).    NATO had a cute little codename for that missile series.  SATAN. 

What you talkin about Willis's picture

Silver Rino ?


Shiny silver haze plus white rhino?


What you talkin about Willis's picture

Silver Rino ?


Shiny silver haze plus white rhino?


Urban Redneck's picture

Mathematically, tactical would be a better option to strategic nukes- the immediate neutralization of all major Turkish military facilities would break NATO, because Europe wouldn't have the stomach for MOAR knowing they would be next.  However, more likely would be blockade of Turkish ports on the Med, which would shut down ISIS's cash cow, drive up oil prices, and bankrupt the Turkish economy, since without trade, the only thing Turkey would be left with is goat fucking, and the locals might decide to fuck the Erdogan clan.

Tall Tom's picture

Technically if Turkey is attacked then the USA is attacked.


Russia, if foolish enough to strike Turkey, will launch a preemptive Strategic First Strike against the USA, concurrently, with attacking Turkey.


This will give the Russians give better Mathematival odds of surviving a USA counterstrike.


And the point is moot because of Nuclear Winter. But the idiots in both Russia and the USA think that Nuclear Wars are winnable so they will do everything that they can to minimize their own damage.


It will be rather quick.

BarkingCat's picture

You are wrong. Turkey attacked Russia first and all the defense treaties are null and void.
If you think the US is going to get into a direct war with Russia to protect Turkey then you are delusional.
I already know the Turks are. US diplomats or politiciymight have made promises to Turkey and convinced them to shoot down that Russian plane, but they will never keep those promises.
If you doubt that consult a history book.

Urban Redneck's picture

The implicit assumption (and big IF in what I wrote) is that if the Russian strategic bombers remain grounded, and satellite and ground based tracking doesn't detect any launches, then the US would not launch because that would invariably trigger a strategic nuclear response from Russia, and thus a global nuclear winter and the end of humanity.  Unfortunately, these days the rational actor assumption might be as invalid as the ceteris paribus assumption.  Specifically, if Putin believed that the rational actor assumption no longer applied the USA, then he might launch at both the Turkey and the US simultaneously.  This was MAD enough before Dubya introduced preemptive war and European missile shields into the calculations after Yeltsin dropped no-first-use, and then Putin went one step further and mirrored NATO's lunatic stance.  Thanks for the reminder to check my assumption of Obama's rationality.  

quadraspleen's picture

Russia, if foolish enough to strike Turkey, will launch a preemptive Strategic First Strike against the USA, concurrently, with attacking Turkey.


Nonsense. The USA have thrown Turkey under the bus. It's game over for that little love-fest.

Francis Marx's picture

Can one say... WW3 ?

But then again, maybe Putin already priced in a blockade.

Ignatius's picture

If Turkey is arrogant and stupid enough to try and close the Bosphorus, it'll be war.

Neochrome's picture

By definition, Turkey is allowed to close of Bosporus only in case of war. Kurds, Iran, Syria, Armenia are already sharpening the knives...

August's picture

The only nationality on earth which actually likes the Turks is....  well, never mind.

Maybe Joe Camel?

Zwelgje's picture

I can confirm that nobody likes Turks.

conscious being's picture

Those Turkomen on Turkoman Mountain in N Latakia Governate, they're the Wigurs ... imported from China ... pretending to be rebelling Syrians.

Tallest Skil's picture

Crimean War II: Electric Boogaloo!

Hopefully Russia can retake Constantinople this time, but given that the same... forces... that stopped them the first time are against them now...

Anunnaki's picture

Are we nearing a scenario where the Turkish military takes down this rabid dog ?

miki's picture

best comment yet ... turks can only function as humans under a military government weve seen their democracy