Turkey will close the Bosphorus Strait - a key shipping route which forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia - to Russian ships if there is violence perpetrated against the Crimean Tatars, Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Quoting an unnamed diplomatic source, Novinite reports that during a phone call on an unspecified date, Erdogan also said Turkey will not recognize the referendum in Crimea. The vote on March 16 reportedly saw 97% of ballots cast in favour of joining the Russian Federation.
"Turkey wants Ukraine to keep its territorial integrity," Erdogan was quoted as telling Putin. "If Nato takes a decision on the matter, we will certainly stick with it."
Earlier Erdogan had a phone conversation with the leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Dzhemilev, in which they discussed the threats against the community in connection to the annexation of the peninsula. Native Crimeans are a Turkic ethnic group who were forcibly deported by Stalin in 1944, thus creating a Russian majority in the peninsula.
"Now this would hurt Russia (given the amount of Russian tankers and freight which goes through this route out into the Mediterranean)," suggests Tim Ash of Standard Bank. "Moscow will contend that if Turkey goes down that route it will be defying international treaties which govern the straits. Note that we are some way from this scenario, given that Turkey is tying it to the treatment of the 300,000 ethnic Tatars in Crimea. Moscow will likely try to ensure good relations with the Tatars and is talking about special benefits."
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