ANKARA: Turkey on Saturday dismissed as “out of the question” claims from Russia that it had allowed U.S. warships to stay longer in the Black Sea than permitted under international law.
Russia has complained that U.S. warships have remained in the Black Sea longer than the 21 days allowed by an international treaty, amid ongoing tensions between Moscow and the West.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that US vessels had “a couple of times” stayed longer than 21 days, contravening the 1936 Montreux Convention.
“We brought this to the attention of the American side and of course Turkey, which is the country that hosts the straits,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti state news agency.
But Ankara hit back, with the foreign ministry dismissing as “odd” Russia’s insistence on the convention, which limits the stay of warships from countries that do not border the Black Sea.
A Russian diplomat was called into the foreign ministry on Friday to hear Turkey’s views on the matter.
According to Russian media, the USS Taylor stayed too long in Black Sea waters, under the pretext it needed a propeller screw repaired in the Turkish port of Samsun.
The USS Taylor had been patrolling during the Sochi Olympics.
ITAR-TASS state news agency reported that another US vessel — the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun — visited ports in Romania and Bulgaria for naval exercises last month.
The increased sea traffic came at a time of growing tension between the West and Russia over Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian peninsula housing the Kremlin’s Black Sea fleet.
Crimea and the city of Sevastopol were proclaimed Russia’s two new regions after the March 16 referendum, which was condemned by Western powers as illegitimate.
Turkey, a NATO ally, has said it does not recognise the result of the referendum, voicing fears about the fate of the Turkish-speaking Tatar minority in Crimea, which was part of the Ottoman Empire until it was conquered by Russia in the late 18th century.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that Russia is “more and more” isolated over its actions in Ukraine — a warning that came after NATO released satellite pictures showing up to 40,000 Russian troops massed along Ukraine’s border.