Five years later, American cruisers and aircraft carriers can anchor at Sevastopol.
On February 26 this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will celebrate his 66th birthday. But this time it will be for him a particularly significant day, which will surely go down in the history of the country. Because it was on February 26 in Ankara that a tender was scheduled for the construction of a new canal from the Black to the Sea of Marmara, which Turkey had dreamed about for centuries.
A water artery with a length of 43 kilometers and a preliminary cost of 10 billion dollars (according to other sources – up to 20 billion), whose full availability is scheduled for 2025, is not just capable of fundamentally changing traffic between the most important seas for world trade and security. It threatens to fundamentally redraw the entire military-political situation on the southern flank of the European continent. Moreover, it is clearly not in Russia’s favor and to the delight of the United States of America. Because the completion of just five years of the Erdogan mega-construction will mean that the Pentagon’s main “splinter” in these seas is the famous Montreux Convention, the only one that prevents the Pentagon from permanently keeping destroyers and cruisers with Tomahawks almost on the edge of Sevastopol’s outer raid, instantly orders a long life. And the Black Sea will turn into a passage yard for anyone. First of all, for warships of the 6th fleet of the US Navy and its NATO allies.
But the role and political weight of Turkey will grow instantly and repeatedly. Because the legal status of the new path “from the Varangians to the Greeks” and back is unknown to anyone today. It has yet to be developed. But the parties concerned (Moscow in the first place) did not even agree with the Turks about the upcoming negotiations.
If negotiations never happen, or there is nothing to agree on, by 2025 Turkey will turn into an unrestricted housekeeper, free to lock or open the gates of the fortress of his own free will. Which, obviously, is what the self-righteous Erdogan is going to emphasize, obviously not by chance setting a historical tender for the day of his own name day. The Turkish prime minister himself has already called his plan “insane and brilliant,” while noting that this project is much larger than the Panama and Suez Canals.
A few words about the project itself. The future canal, loudly named the project “Istanbul”, is going to be dug in parallel with the current Bosphorus. It is designed to pass ships and vessels of almost any displacement. Including supertankers, cruisers and aircraft carriers. To do this, it must be 150 meters wide. Depth at the fairway is up to 25 meters (by the way – the draft of the Navy’s nuclear carriers of the US Nimitz type is only 11.3 meters).
It is clear that in Istanbul itself and its suburbs it is impossible to start such a giant construction project – the density of residential buildings is too high. Therefore, the route will start on the coast of the Sea of Marmara, west of the city of Silivri (Turkish Thrace), 70 kilometers from the former capital of Turkey. The mountains raised by excavators will go to the creation of new artificial islands off the coast of Silivri. Which the Turks will turn into a new tourist paradise in the Sea of Marmara.
On January 15, 2018, Turkish authorities approved a canal route. The Turkish Ministry of Transport announced that it will pass through the Sazlidere reservoir, the Kucuk-Chekmece lakes, Sazlısu and Durusu and will enter the Black Sea east of the Terkoss dam.
What can the Istanbul channel give ordinary Turks besides additional jobs? First of all, the transport load on the Bosphorus will sharply decrease, through which today, on average, up to 150 vessels and ships of various purposes pass in both directions on average daily. Tankers are a particular headache for the authorities of Istanbul, which is spread on both banks of the Bosphorus. Up to four million tons of liquefied gas, up to three million tons of chemicals and about 150 million tons of oil are transported to them (mainly from Russia) every year. But with this level of intensity of shipping, accidents with tankers in these waters are commonplace. Especially taking into account 12 sharp turns in the Bosphorus channel, from oncoming “surprises” in which they regularly throw the most experienced captains and navigators into a sweat.
Accidents in the prevailing conditions are almost inevitable. Then, few tons of fuel pour out in the crystal transparency of water – the movement itself through the strait freezes for a long time. And these are millions of losses.
Not only for shipowners, but also for the Turkish authorities, providing pilotage of both civilian ships and warships.
If the future Istanbul channel takes over this stream from 2025, it will certainly become as spacious in the Bosphorus as during the times of the powerful sultans and the “brilliant Porta”. And then there will be enough space for new beaches, windsurfing, memorable tourist trips on yachts and pleasure boats. And this is also a lot of money.
However, all of the above is on the surface problems with the Black Sea straits. More important than another. The start of construction is probably no less impatient than Erdogan is expected in Washington. Because the Istanbul Canal, when it goes into operation, will definitely bury all the restrictions for Americans to sail in the Black Sea.
So far, I recall, the Montreux Convention, signed in 1936, limits the time spent in the Black Sea by warships of states that are considered only guests in its waters for 21 days. Limits on the total displacement (up to 45 thousand tons) of units of such ships are also significant. If it weren’t for the Montreux Convention, the ships of the 6th Fleet of the US Navy would rush at full speed in 2008 to Georgia, and in 2014 to the Crimea. And who knows, how would everything have turned out for Russia at that time? But how will this be after 2025 if Erdogan’s “construction of the century” is successful?
Yes, today the political relations between Ankara and Washington are not just not perfect – they are very bad. But Erdogan is not eternal. And Turkey’s foreign policy, as they say, is oriental “on your mind.” Today, Turkey is facing Russia. And tomorrow? And the channel is for centuries.
Meanwhile, the Americans clearly expect that the Montreux Convention will soon be in the trash. And the Istanbul channel will help it to go there. Through which it will be.
In any case, back in 2016, when Erdogan’s project was already in full swing, the then 6th Fleet Commander Vice Admiral James Foggo suddenly stated that, in his opinion, “the duration of patrolling American warships in the Black Sea could be increased by approximately up to four months. ” Moreover. “If the challenges in this region become more urgent,” the admiral believes that it is possible to build up the total number of such ships off the coast of Russia.
The responsible military leader could say such a thing, I think, only in a single case. Only if he firmly believes that soon all the obstacles invented almost a century ago in Swiss Montreux are about to fall or become meaningless. The Turkish Hurriyet newspaper writes about this: “Istanbul Channel will de facto become the US move in an attempt to settle in the Black Sea. The channel will allow you to bypass the Montreux Convention, which restricts the passage of American ships through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus and does not allow them to be in the Black Sea for more than 21 days.
But this will simply turn upside down the entire operational situation on the southern flank of Russia. “Tomahawks” are not hundreds – thousands under the decks of just a couple of dozen destroyers such as “Arly Burke” and cruisers URO type “Ticonderoga” in a few days through the channel “Istanbul” can be pulled, for example, to Odessa. Or to Constanta. Or to Varna. Get up there for any lengthy combat duty. Flight time to the Crimea — just a few minutes. To Rostov, Voronezh, Belgorod, Kursk – a little more.
Then, against the background of this almost instantaneous combat potential that arose near the Russian border, 24 American SM-3 Block IB missiles, already deployed in Romania at the US military base in the town of Deveselu and poisoning the international situation in Europe for us for a long time, will instantly appear to Moscow as child crackers. Because no such air defense will be able to repel such a cloud of simultaneously launching air attack means from ship decks.
What do we do? The only thing: to begin negotiations with Ankara on the international legal status of the future Istanbul channel as soon as possible. Ideally, advocate for the Montreux Convention to extend to this waterway.
True, Moscow’s diplomatic positions in this direction are very precarious today. Because of the number of Black Sea states, only Russia will be unambiguously against freeing the hands of the Americans in the Black Sea. Turkey’s point of view is in doubt. The rest will only be happy to see a star-striped flag on their shores on an ongoing basis.
But something to do is still necessary and urgent. When the Istanbul Channel is operational, it will probably be too late.