Türkiye has banned its own ships from visiting Russian-occupied Crimea. This comes after a meeting between Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman and his Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim in Anakara on 10 March 2017, UATV reported.
The Turkish Prime Minister reassured his country’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Hroysman praised the move ban Turkish ships from Crimea as a “powerful signal,” and thanked Ankara for their support of Crimean Tatars.
“Separately I would like to thank you for the fact that today during our visit we were informed of the ban on all Turkish ships from visiting occupied Crimea. This is a very powerful signal. I would also like to thank Mr. Prime Minister for your position on Ukraine, for the support of our independence and territorial integrity. We feel your support. I would especially like to emphasize that your position in regard to Crimean Tatars is very important for us,” he said.
The ban to enter Crimean ports applies to all ships under the Turkish flag.
Apparently, the Turkish government had made moves to stop the illegal trade with the occupied peninsula weeks earlier.
On 8 March, the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet reported that ships from occupied Crimea were denied entrance to Turkish ports. Particularly, ferries from Sevastopol were not allowed to dock in Turkish Zonguldak. According to the head of the Turkish logistic company, Selin Global Foreign Trade, Arzigul Kaymakçı, he wasn’t given an official reason why the ships cannot unload in the port. Sea trade between the ports was stopped.
Kaymakçı, whose company transports citrus fruit, fresh fruits, vegetables and construction materials, said that they already had lost $150 mn from the two vessels that could not go about their trade routes.
Türkiye’s flourishing illegal trade with Crimea
After Russia illegally annexed the Ukrainian peninsula, Ukraine closed it to international navigation on 16 June 2014. Subsequently, the EU and US also banned entrance into Crimean ports and imposed corresponding sanctions. However, foreign ships are finding their way to the peninsula, and Türkiye, right across the Black Sea, and Ukraine’s largest sea trade partner, is sending quite a significant part of them. While Türkiye had not imposed sanctions against Russia following the occupation of Crimea, Ankara had repeatedly reaffirmed its stance in defense of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and condemned the illegal occupation of Crimea.
Monitoring work conducted by Black Sea News revealed that as of 15 August 2016, at least 260 ships flying 32 different flags docked at Crimean ports. The ships coming in mostly fly the usual “flags of convenience,” which not always represent the country of the ship’s owner or its managers. Real ship owners, especially from abroad, re-register the vessels under the fictitious owners’ names and regularly change operating companies in order to evade sanctions. Many turn off their radar to avoid being tracked in Crimean ports.
Black Sea News’ data reveals that Russia, Türkiye, and Greece are the top-3 countries violating the sanctions regime in Crimea. Ukrainian, Romanian, and Italian ships were also among top offenders. Altogether, the 260 ships belonged to owners from 28 countries.
Türkiye had previously made state orders to ban trade with occupied Crimea, but halting trade between the long-time trade partners had proved to be difficult.
A decision of the Turkish council of Ministers on 30 April 2014, 1.5 months after Russia conducted an illegal “referendum” in Crimea, the 27 major Turkish ports that normally handle international shipping were banned from allowing any ship to dock if it carried papers declaring that its home port in “Russian Crimea” rather than in Ukraine or has passed through such an occupied port.
Despite this order, sea trade between Türkiye and Ukraine’s occupied peninsula across the Black Sea flourished, of which Russian authorities officially reported. “During the period between 1-19 October 2015, 385 tons of fresh fruits and 21 tons of dried fruits were supplied through the marine checkpoints in Sevastopol and Yevpatoria,” stated Russia’s Rosselnadzor.
According to texty.org.ua, the trade never stopped even after Russia imposed sanctions against Türkiye following the downing of a Russian military jet above Türkiye on 24 November 2015 – one in ten illegal cargo ships entering Crimea did it under Turkish flags.
Türkiye’s motives for continuing with the trade could have been different, TEXTY journalist Liubov Velychko supposes. It could be corruption and too much bureaucracy to the desire to develop contacts with the region which was once a protectorate of the Ottoman empire. Or perhaps money comes first: a strong army is needed to shoot down Russian planes, and a strong army is expensive, so why refuse trading with the enemy if there are even small profits?
Ukraine could have influenced the events with a firm and proper response of all the state organs. But it hasn’t.
So we shouldn’t expect Türkiye’s recent ban to permanently end the trade. The only thing that could forward that goal is a strong reaction of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies which would send official notes of protest over the illegal trade flourishing in the Black Sea.