Montreux Convention


Turkey is set to activate the Montreux Convention in response to Russia’s War over Ukraine.

About Montreux Convention:

  • The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, often known simply as the Montreux Convention,
  • It is an international agreement governing the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits in Turkey.
  • The international agreement was signed by Australia, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Japan, Romania, Yugoslavia, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and Turkey 
  • It is signed on 20 July 1936 at the Montreux Palace in Switzerland,
  • It went into effect on 9 November 1936, addressing the long running Straits Question over who should control the strategically vital link between the Black and Mediterranean Seas.
  • The Montreux Convention regulates maritime traffic through the Black Sea.
  • It guarantees “complete freedom” of passage for all civilian vessels during peacetime and permits Turkey to restrict the passage of navies not belonging to Black Sea states.
  • Military vessels are limited in number, tonnage and weaponry, with specific provisions governing their mode of entry and duration of stay. Warships must provide advanced notification to Turkish authorities, which, in turn, must inform the parties to the Convention.
  • While it was designed for a particular geopolitical context, and remains unchanged since its adoption, the Montreux Convention has endured as a “solid example of a rules-based international order”, since most of its terms are still followed.
  • In the event of a war, the pact gives Turkey the right to regulate the transit of naval warships and to block the straits to warships belonging to the countries involved in the conflict.
  • Any country with coastline on the Black Sea – Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia or Ukraine – must notify Turkey eight days in advance of its intention to send vessels of war through the straits.
    • Other countries, the ones that don’t border the Black Sea, must give Turkey 15 days’ advance notice.
  • Turkey has used the convention’s powers before. During World War II, Turkey prevented the Axis powers from sending their warships to attack the Soviet Union – and blocked the Soviet navy from participating in combat in the Mediterranean.
  • However, there have been some controversies in its implementation,most notably the proposed Kanal Istanbul, which would provide another waterway from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, thereby possibly circumventing the Convention.

Where is Bosporus and Dardanelles straits?

  • The Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, also known as the Turkish Straits or the Black Sea Straits, connect the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea via the Sea of Marmara.
  • It is the only passage through which the Black Sea ports can access the Mediterranean and beyond.
  • Over three million barrels of oil, about 3% of the daily global supply, mostly produced in Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan, pass through this waterway every day.
  • The route also ships large amounts of iron, steel, and agricultural products from the Black Sea coast to Europe and the rest of the world.

Could Turkey block Russian warships?

Russia’s location on the Black Sea complicates the situation.

Article 19 of the treaty contains an exception for the countries on the Black Sea that can effectively undermine Turkey’s power in blocking the Russian warships entering or exiting the Black Sea: “Vessels of war belonging to belligerent powers, whether they are Black Sea Powers or not, which have become separated from their bases, may return thereto,” it says.

That means warships can return to their original bases through the passage and Turkey cannot prevent it.

For example, a Russian fleet registered in the Black Sea but currently located in the Mediterranean Sea, is allowed to pass through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits and return to its base. The condition also applies to Russian fleets currently in the Black Sea that belong to a base in the Mediterranean or Baltic Sea. Russia is free to take them out of the Black Sea.

 “If this warship is to go to the base in the country that is a party to the war, then this passage cannot be prevented”, adding that there should be no abuse and “the ships returning to their bases should not be involved in a war after saying it will go back to the base.”

The official assignment of a ship to a port determines whether it has the right to pass through the Straits or not. The official assignment, according to theInternational Maritime Organisation (IMO) falls under the authority of the state that owns the ships. Therefore, another possible way for Russia to exploit the Montreux Convention, would be to reassign some of its vessels to the Black Sea.

What is the Role of Turkey in the Present Crisis?

  • In the current situation, the Turkish government finds itself in a difficult position, as both Ukraine and Russia are important partners in critical energy and military trade agreements.
  • Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, wants to strengthen its ties with the West while not upsetting Russia. Its control over these key straits may test its balancing act.
  • In this context, Turkey has held that it cannot block all Russian warships accessing the Black Sea due to a clause in the pact exempting those returning to their registered base.

Source: Indian Express

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