Turkey Responds To Russian Provocations In Black Sea
Turkish authorities have urged Moscow not to escalate tensions in the Black Sea following the incident involving the Turkish dry-cargo ship Sukra Okan in neutral waters, the ВВС reports.
Last Sunday, Russian authorities said the patrol ship Vasily Bykov opened warning fire on the Palau-flagged dry cargo vessel after its captain disobeyed orders to stop for a ‘lawful inspection’.
The incident took place in neutral waters near Turkey’s Black Sea coast, according to websites that track ship movements.
“Following [Russia’s] intervention, our partners in the Russian Federation were warned to avoid such actions that lead to an escalation of tensions in the Black Sea,” President Erdogan’s office said.
“The captain of the dry cargo ship did not respond to the request to stop for inspection for carrying prohibited goods. In order to stop the ship by force, the Russian warship opened warning fire with automatic small arms,” the Russian Defence Ministry said.
The Russian Defence Ministry also released footage of a helicopter landing on the Sukru Okan. It shows men with assault rifles descending from a Ka-29 helicopter onto the deck of the ship, with the crew on their knees. The Russian military asked the sailors questions, checked documents and wished the crew a safe journey.
The dry-cargo ship then proceeded to the Ukrainian port of Izmail, through which Ukrainian agricultural products are exported.
The Turkish defence ministry said at the time that it was aware of the incident and that Ankara was investigating the matter.
On Thursday, after Turkish leaders were criticised for being slow to comment on the incident, Erdogan’s office said it was up to Palau to respond formally.
“Even if the owner of the Sukra Okan is a Turkish citizen, the ship does not fly the Turkish flag,” it said.
Most ships have long avoided entering Ukrainian territorial waters for safety reasons, going straight to the Romanian port of Sulina in the Danube delta and on to Ukrainian river ports, including Izmail. Therefore, maritime experts say it is premature to say that the incident with the Turkish dry-cargo ship can in any way affect the export of Ukrainian grain by sea, especially since such cargo traffic has virtually dried up after Moscow unilaterally broke the “grain deal” due to the Russian blockade and threats to consider commercial ships in the Black Sea as carrying military cargo for Ukraine. But Western analysts say the incident points to rising tensions in the Black Sea and could lead to the involvement of countries not directly involved in the Russia-Ukraine war.
In July, Russia warned that it could view cargo ships from third countries as hostile, raising the risk of military confrontation.
“We are obviously concerned that Russia could extend its strikes against Ukrainian grain facilities to civilian vessels in the Black Sea,” US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said this week.
Officials in Kyiv called the incident involving the shelling and search of the Sukra Okan dry cargo ship a violation of international maritime law and demanded a thorough investigation into all the circumstances of the incident.
“Russia’s deliberate shelling and forced inspection of the international civilian dry cargo ship Sukra Okan, which was on its way to the Ukrainian port of Izmail, is an unconditional violation of international maritime law, an act of piracy and a crime against civilian ships of a third country in the waters of other states,” Mikhail Podolyak, an aide to the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said shortly after the incident.
According to him, “this precedent with the attempt to introduce ‘privateer law’ requires a clear legal definition, identification of all persons and recognition of the crime by the international community”. Podolyak assured that Ukraine would draw all the necessary conclusions and choose the best response.
“In addition to blackmailing the whole world with food, Russia has resorted to terror in the Black Sea. This act is a blatant disregard for the rights of Black Sea states to free navigation and the rights of foreign ships to peaceful passage through the territorial waters of coastal countries,” said Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov.
He called on the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and its partners to react harshly to Russia’s actions, to make every effort to stop terror in the Black Sea and to take action against the Russian Federation as an IMO member state.
Following the incident, the Ukrainian authorities advised masters of ships sailing to or from Ukrainian ports to keep as close as possible to the coast of the north-western part of the Black Sea, the territorial waters of Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, in order to avoid provocations.