Cablegate: What Is Behind Turkey's Black Sea Policy?

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ANKARA 005953


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/22/2015


C. ANKARA 2060 D. ANKARA 3581

Classified By: Counselor for Political-Military Affairs Timothy A. Bett s for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: Turkey makes a strong distinction between Black Sea maritime security and broader security challenges in the larger region (such as frozen conflicts). We see Turkish pride of place as a main driver of their approach to the former, though a genuine desire to draw Russia into cooperation with western security institutions may also be in play. This may be a false distinction, but will drive how open Turkey will be to Romania's "Black Sea Forum of Dialogue and Partnership" initiative. The initial Turkish reaction to this Romanian proposal is cool. End summary.

2. (C) We note with interest recent reporting from Embassy Bucharest on the GOR's concern that Turkey and Russia are pursuing a "closed sea" policy with regard to Black Sea security (ref b, among others). Turkey has made a significant distinction between broader security concerns in the Black Sea region (frozen conflicts, for example) and maritime security in the Black Sea proper. Turkish officials tell us that they welcome NATO, EU, and other interested parties' cooperation, assistance, and input on broader issues, but prefer for now to limit maritime security primarily to the littoral states.

3. (C) When the Turks explain this distinction, they cite Russian sensitivities as their chief concern. MFA officials have told us that NATO involvement in the Black Sea is Turkey's "end game," but have asked that we take a go-slow approach and allow the Turks to bring Moscow along (ref c). They believe that if NATO (including the U.S.) were to play an active role in maritime security now, this would spook the Russians and cause Moscow to back off from the cooperation it has agreed to thus far under BLACKSEAFOR. (In any case the Montreux Convention already precludes a sizable NATO presence outside the three littoral NATO states, only one of which-Turkey-has a capable navy.) Officials explain that multilateralizing Turkey's Black Sea Harmony operation (a maritime interdiction operation similar to OAE, under which Turkey provides data to NATO) under the BLACKSEAFOR rubric is Turkey's way of integrating Russia into western security institutions. N5 Chief RADM (LH) Cem Gurdeniz told PolMilOff Sept. 21 that Black Sea Harmony will have a "NATO affiliation." Still, Turkish officials express exasperation with what they see as Romania's efforts to undermine Turkey's efforts to make BLACKSEAFOR into a more effective organization and Bucharest's insistence on putting the NATO stamp on Black Sea maritime security now.

4. (C) The Turks' sharp differentiation between maritime and broader security concerns in the region is somewhat odd. While we defer to Embassy Moscow's analysis, the Russians appear to be just as reluctant to engage meaningfully with NATO, the EU, or other "outsiders" in solving frozen conflicts and other regional security threats as they are to participate with these groups in maritime security. One explanation may be that the Turks want to carve out a specific security sphere (maritime) in which they have some measure of control (as the founder of BLACKSEAFOR and through Montreux's restriction on non-littoral navy traffic in the Black Sea) to establish a meaningful OAE-type operation and to bring the Russians slowly into enhanced cooperation with NATO.

5. (C) Another likely explanation is pride of place. Turkish officials and military officers tell us repeatedly that for 50 years of Cold War, Turkey was the bulwark which prevented Soviet domination of the Black Sea. Many Turkish policymakers appear to perceive the Black Sea as a Turkish lake, and they want to be the lead nation in providing for maritime security. Although they don't particularly want to share with the U.S., the EU, or with the Alliance, they realize that the U.S. wants to engage, and that they will likely not be able to ensure that maritime security remains indefinitely as a "littorals only" project. The Turks do not have the same attitude toward broader security challenges in the region writ large; they recognize that neither Turkey nor even all the littorals can solve the economic and political challenges facing the region.

6. (C) Some will posit a warmer Russia-Turkey relationship as a possible motivation for the GOT's go-slow policy on NATO involvement in Black Sea maritime security. There is some logic to this, but we do not see Turkey's policy as merely kowtowing to Moscow. With several recent reciprocal Erdogan-Putin visits and a burgeoning trade relationship as well (including 3 million Russian tourists a year visiting Turkey and Turkey's reliance on Russia for petroleum products), there is no question the relationship is growing. Additionally, some senior foreign policy advisers close to Erdogan and FonMin Gul promote the concept of "strategic depth," arguing that Turkey needs to reach beyond its traditional western foreign policy orientation and seek closer ties to its north and east. However, this concept is unpopular in the military and the bureaucracy, who appear to be the main architects of BLACKSEAFOR and Black Sea Harmony. These officials do not show a deep affection for Russia; they assert to us that they are working to integrate Russia slowly within western security institutions, not necessarily to bring Turkey and Russia closer together.

7. (C) We understand the Romanians are proposing to hold a "Black Sea Forum of Dialogue and Partnership," and are seeking U.S. assistance to persuade the Russians and Turks to attend (ref a). MFA Head of Department for NATO Political Affairs Atilla Gunay told PolMilOff Oct. 3 that Turkey is cool to the Romanians' proposal, but is still studying the idea. The Turks and Romanians are clearly annoyed with each other on the Black Sea issue. Whatever the outcome on the Romanian proposal, we hope it will not create a larger wedge between these two NATO allies.


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