On more than one occasion I have written that Turkey, for a number of reasons, is the key to the Middle East. Today, for some of those same reasons, I am stating that it is the key to the outcome of the war in Ukraine.
Much of the free press is making a big deal out of the fact that the Russian military is underperforming (I’m being kind) in the war. There is an area in which it is very much winning. Despite the loss of its flagship, the Russian navy has been successful in blockading Ukraine’s ports and in the process messing up the world’s economy. If this blockade stands much longer it will cause massive price spikes and starvation. It will also ruin the Ukrainian economy.
I always keep in mind the words of Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Alexander Vindman who early in the war said actions considered unthinkable two weeks later would be reality. With that in mind eventually the West, led by the United States will have to break the blockade.
Ukraine’s ports, Odessa being the primary one, are on the Black Sea. The Black Sea is only accessible to western navies (principally the American one) from the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean and Black Seas are connected by the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straights with the relatively tiny Sea of Marmara between them. They all lie in Turkish territory. By a 1982 amendment to the 1936 Montreux Convention, Turkey controls access to those waterways by military vessels. Considering you would be coming out of a narrow waterway to enter the Black Sea where the Russian fleet has been operating for years that wouldn’t be the wisest naval move in the first place.
More likely western naval forces would attack the Russian fleet via Tomahawk missiles from the Aegean Sea (which is hardly more than a region of the Mediterranean.) Tomahawks have an effective range of at least 1000 miles so that is no issue except for one factor. The missiles would have to travel a considerable distance over Turkish airspace. I can’t envision the United States, and/or its allies, launching Tomahawk missiles over Turkish airspace without prior notification and permission. This would not be a one off operation like the raid that killed Osama bin Laden; this would be a more sustained attack probably consisting of multiple episodes over several days.
Turkey is not Pakistan – although I don’t trust either anywhere near 100% – it is a NATO member. This brings me to another somewhat related issue. Sweden and Finland have applied for NATO membership. Turkey is making noise that they aren’t all that ready to approve their applications. (To be admitted requires all members to approve the applicant.) The “smart money” says that as things currently stand Turkey can be placated and the alliance expanded. What if Turkey is angered by missiles being shot over its territory without its permission? Even if the action were taken unilaterally or otherwise outside of NATO, they will still be angry. Might they pull out of NATO? Whether I and many others completely trust them or not it is unquestionable that the alliance is stronger with them in it than with them possibly on the other side.
I don’t know what your dream job is but I hope it’s not President of the United States. While you watch Turkey keep in mind that the president deals with a lot of other complications that we are not even aware of.
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