Tension on the rise in Black Sea, Turkey stuck in the middle
The tension in the Black Sea has increased steadily, placing Turkey in a very difficult position. The first challenge Turkey faced was the passage of U.S. warships through its straits carrying humanitarian aid to Georgia, a move slammed by Russia.
Ankara refused to open its straits to two hospital ships of the U.S. Navy but agreed to the passage of smaller cruisers, in line with the 1936 Montreux Convention.
The two hospital ships tonnage exceeded the limits set by the Montreux Convention, which governs international traffic through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits. Under the convention, the total weight of the warships that countries not bordering the Black Sea can deploy was limited to 45,000 tons.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas delivered supplies to the Georgian port of Batumi yesterday, three days after the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul docked in the port.
By choosing Batumi, the U.S. opted for a less confrontational move than docking at Poti, another Georgian port where Russian troops are dug in. The U.S. may have also suspected that the Russians had mined the harbor at Poti.
Meanwhile warships belonging to NATO members Spain, Poland and Germany passed through the straits to head to Romania's Constanta.
NATO warships attended the Black Sea for long-planned exercises and routine visits to ports in Romania and Bulgaria.
Russia responded harshly to the increased military presence of NATO in the Black Sea. General Anatoli Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, accused NATO of “ratcheting up tension” in the Black Sea. Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said: “It’s not a common practice to deliver humanitarian aid using battleships.”
Nogovitsyn also warned U.S. ships could only stay in the Black Sea for 21 days according to the Montreux Convention, and warned if they do not leave by then Turkey would be responsible.
The U.S. ships are carrying nuclear missiles that can hit Russian targets as far away as St. Petersburg, Russia also said. Moscow has dispatched its own ships to track the U.S. vessels.
Russia sent its flagship of the Black Sea deployed at the Crimea peninsula to Sukhumi.
Tension in the region remains high, leaving Turkey stuck in the middle, being the sole NATO member that borders the Caucasus on one hand, while Russia is one of its major trading partners, especially in energy, on the other.