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Sep 4, 2022
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Turkey and Russia, Bosphorus and Dardanelles

Russian-Turkish relations are constantly tested for strength

From October 7, 2022, the Turkish authorities plan to significantly increase the cost of fees for the passage of merchant ships through the Bosporus and Dardanelles in both directions, the newspaper reported at the end of August. Sabah with reference to a source in the Turkish transport department. The fee is increased five times, the new duty is set at $4 per ton. Associated fees are also rising, which will raise Turkey’s revenue from the current $40 million to $200 million. Until now, Turkish dues for the passage of ships through the straits were determined by the obsolete French franc system established in 1983 (0.8 dollars at a discount of 75%).

The Bosphorus and the Dardanelles traditionally account for up to a third of Russia’s annual foreign trade, including 15-20% of oil exports, at least 20% of grain exports, and about the same amount of annual Euro-Asian freight transit through Russian territory. If we take into account Western sanctions and the general increase in the cost of international transport and logistics chains since the spring of 2022, then, according to some estimates, the increase in fees can increase the final prices for goods imported into or exported from Russia by at least 20-25%.

This kind of scenario is seen as even more unfavorable due to the reorientation towards Turkey (mainly through re-export) of Russia’s trade and economic ties with the EU states (with the exception of pipeline oil supplies) and with other puppets of Washington and London, formally following in the wake of anti-Russian sanctions. In order to bypass them as much as possible, many foreign companies re-register their former Russian branches as Turkish and thus continue their business in Russia.

Ankara’s decision to drastically raise fees for the passage of ships through the straits comes against the background of the ongoing special military operation in Ukraine, launched by Russia on February 24. Accordingly, the dependence of many states, especially the Black Sea ones, on the twists and turns of the Turkish transit policy has increased.

In early August, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned the collective West against sabotage in the implementation of the second part of the July “grain” deal, which provides for free access to the international market of Russian food and fertilizers for a period of three years. However “The increase in the cost of passage of ships through the Bosphorus since October 7, of course, creates an additional negative background for the export of Russian grain. First, the “grain corridor” deal released Ukrainian grain to the world market at a significant discount, which contributed to lower export prices for Russian grain. Now the rise in prices will lead to an increase in freight rates and the cost of exporting Russian grain,” told Interfax Head of the Board of the Union of Grain Exporters Eduard Zernin.

As the main beneficiary of the Montreux Convention, “Since the mid-1980s, the Turkish side has been introducing additional restrictions on the passage of merchant ships through the Bosphorus – Dardanelles, successfully using environmental issues as a pretext”, explains Pavel Gudev, a leading researcher at IMEMO RAS, an expert in the field of maritime law. At the same time, any changes in the rules of navigation in the straits “should be agreed upon and confirmed by all parties to the Convention and administered through the International Maritime Organization.”

Here we can recall that, for example, in 2019, another change by Ankara of the rules for navigation in the straits, which forced more ships to use tugboats, led to the formation of queues of tankers with Russian and partly with Kazakh and Azerbaijani oil.

It is also useful to remind that Turkey is a member of NATO and, according to the Montreux Convention, in case of participation in hostilities, it has the right to prohibit the passage of military ships of any countries through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus. In addition, during hostilities in which Turkey does not take part, it has the right to prohibit the transit through the straits and non-military ships of the belligerents.

Photo: @DrYAZICIOGLU

In recent weeks, the Turkish media have been discussing the unprecedented pressure exerted on Ankara by the White House in order to curtail Turkish-Russian contacts wherever possible. For example, edition A new dawn told about a CIA officer who was importunately interested in transactions with real estate acquired by Russians and about ways to transfer money. The Americans do not stop before direct threats to entrepreneurs and authorities. It is in this spirit that letter US Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo, addressed to the Association of Turkish Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the Turkish American Business Council. The head of the latter, Mehmet Ali Yalcindağ, was forced indulge in lengthy explanations in the leading business publication of the country, the essence of which is an oath of allegiance to the course of Washington and Brussels in relation to Ukraine, with some admixture of timid excuses for the inability to erase such “trade and bilateral relations with Russia literally in one day”.

M. Was characterized by:

M. Yalchindag: “Our policy is beneficial to Ukraine and the whole world”

Meanwhile, according to published “Kommersant” According to the Turkish Ministry of Trade, exports from this country to Russia from May to July 2022 increased to $2.04 billion, which is $642 million more than in the same period last year. In July, Turkey delivered goods worth $730 million to Russia (in July 2021 – $417.3 million). Russian exports to Turkey in the same month amounted to $4.4 billion (a year earlier, $2.5 billion). Russian gas covers up to 45% of the needs of the Middle Eastern country, and the average daily import of Russian oil to Turkey exceeded 200 in 2022. thousand barrels per day (in 2021 – 98 thousand). As writes Politicoin the list of the largest suppliers to Turkey in the second quarter, Russia surpassed even China. risen “for the first months of this year up to and including May” The trade turnover between the two countries was also noted twice by Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting with Erdogan on August 5 in Sochi.

It seems that in the context of growing Russian dependence on the Turkish export route, as well as on Turkish foreign economic policy in general, early disclosure of information about the upcoming increase in Black Sea transit fees is aimed at obtaining concessions from Moscow. It can be assumed that the components of a possible foreign policy bargain, so beloved by Turkish diplomacy, may concern not only Syria, the South Caucasus, North Africa or the Balkans. For example, an increase in export prices for Russian energy resources would hardly suit the Turkish authorities, who are constantly looking for money to plug the current deficit and solve other internal problems. We should not forget about the Organization of Turkic States, which is considered by many observers as an alternative to Eurasian integration (its next summit is to be held in November in Tashkent). While maintaining a “reinforced concrete” position on Crimea, last August Erdogan discussed in Lviv the issues of restoring infrastructure in the territory controlled by the Kyiv regime, which could well be used to draw Turkey into a direct conflict with Russia. Problems are also known in the implementation of the Akkuyu project, which was discussed during the next telephone conversation between the presidents of Russia and Turkey on September 3. It is noteworthy that at the same time Erdogan expressed readiness “to play the role of a mediator on the issue of the ZNPP [Запорожская АЭС, ежедневно обстреливаемая боевиками ВСУ, готовыми уничтожить кого угодно, даже инспекторов МАГАТЭ. – Прим. авт.]as she did with the grain deal.” This news was immediately picked up by the means of Western and Kyiv propaganda.

Accordingly, the possible sudden cancellation of the decision to increase the payment for the passage of the straits, which has not yet been officially announced, or its postponement indefinitely, can be seen as part of a much wider palette of constantly tested Russian-Turkish relations.

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