Ukraine lies along the northern edge of the Black Sea, and the Crimean peninsula, with its naval bases, dominates that portion of the sea. Turkey, however, controls the entire southern rim of the Black Sea along with the Bosphorous and Dardenelles straits that control the egress from the Black Sea to the wider world. Russia’s Black Sea fleet, today as in centuries past, must contend with Turkey if it seeks to project power beyond that inland sea. So, as tensions rise with Russian annexation of Crimea and massing of troops on Ukrainian borders, the Turkish Navy has set sail . . . for Africa.
In the days of the Cold War, Turkey was seen as the formidable anchor of NATO’s southern flank; in recent years, Prime Minister Erdogan has embarked on a mission of “neo-Ottomanism,” which seeks to reclaim Turkey’s role as the predominant regional and sometime world power. Erdogan may see these ambitions more closely aligned with current Russian practices than with the West. Meeting directly with Putin early in the crisis, Erdogan reportedly received serious concessions about the treatment of Turkic Tartars in the region, possibly in exchange for Turkish closure of the straits to Western warships. Perhaps, then, the continuation of the African mission is yet another signal that Turkey has no inclination to aide the West in any campaign against Russia.