Exactly a week ago, we warned that Turkey does have one trump card when it comes to dealing with an angry Russian bear that’s hell bent on making life miserable for Ankara in the wake of Erdogan’s brazen move to shoot down a Russian Su-24 near the Syrian border. Turkey, we explained, could move to close the Bosphorus Strait, cutting one of Moscow’s key supply lines to Latakia.
We went on to explain, that such a move would probably be illegal based on the 1936 Montreux Convention, but as Sputnik noted, "in times of war, the passage of warships shall be left entirely to the discretion of the Turkish government."
Obviously, Turkey and Russia haven’t formally declared war on one another, but the plane “incident” marked the first time a NATO member has engaged a Russian or Soviet aircraft in more than six decades and given the gravity of that escalation, one would hardly put it past Erdogan to start interfering with Moscow’s warships, especially if it means delaying their arrival in Syria where the Russians are on the verge of restoring an Assad government that’s Turkey despises.
Well sure enough, the tit-for-tat mutual escalation that’s ensued since the Su-24 crash has spilled over into the maritime arena with Moscow and Ankara detaining each other's ships.
After five Turkish vessels were held at the port of Novorossiysk for “inspections,” Turkey retaliated on Friday by holding four Russian ships at the Black Sea port of Samsun. The following table reveals a hilarious list of the Russian vessels’ alleged infractions which apparently include fire safety violations, pollution prevention violations, and problems with “life saving appliances.”:
One of the vessels - the cargo ship Crystal - has yet to be released.
"Six ships with a Russian flag were checked at Samsun Port on Dec. 5. The ships were found to be in compliance with Port State Control (PSC) rules, a series of international standards that all ships are required to meet, but some problems were subsequently detected in four of the ships," Hurriyet says, adding that "three of the ships consequently met the requirements and were permitted to leave, but the remaining vessel has not yet been permitted to depart."
The Crystal apparently lacks the "required documents."
Obviously, Russia and Turkey are engaged in a bit of petty mutual escalation here, but it's worth noting that Samsun isn't far from the Bosphorus:
And while Turkey now appears content to harrass Russian cargo vessels, one shouldn't discount the possibility that Erodgan will look to do something more provocative now that it looks like the UN will ultimately be dragged into the ISIS oil smuggling debate.
Indeed, Moscow seems to be taking the Bosphorus issue quite seriously because as Hurriyet reported just hours ago, when the Russian warship Caesar Kunikov made its way through the strait on Saturday, a Russian soldier stood on deck with a shoulder ground-to-air missile at the ready.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's response: "For a Russian soldier to display a rocket launcher or something similar while passing on a Russian warship is a provocation. If we perceive a threatening situation, we will give the necessary response."" Indeed.
And meanwhile, three NATO warships have dropped anchor off Istanbul’s Sarayburnu coast: Portugal's F-334 NRP Francisco de Almeida, Spain’s F-105 ESPS Blaz de Lezo, and Canada's FFG-338 HMCS Winnipeg.