Kanal Istanbul project challenges Russia, shakes up region - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip  Erdoğan’s Kanal Istanbul waterway project is creating concern for Russia over the new route it will provide for Western warships during a conflict, analyst Zvi Bar'el wrote in Israeli Haaretz newspaper on Saturday.

Russia, Brussels and the countries bordering the Black Sea are concerned because the canal project would give Turkey sole authority to govern the traffic and cargo passing through the waters, in addition permitting the passage of warships from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, Bar’el wrote.

Championed for years by Erdoğan, the project will connect the Black Sea north of Istanbul to the Marmara Sea to the south and is estimated to cost $9.2 billion.

Last month, Turkey approved plans to develop the canal project, which has opened up debate about the 1936 Montreux Convention, which guarantees the free passage through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits of civilian vessels in times of both peace and war.

The project appears to be good news for the United States, Bar’el wrote, as it would be able to send its warships into the Black Sea if war broke out with Russia.

But "Washington would undoubtedly have to make major concessions to Turkey, like abandoning its campaign against Turkey’s acquisition of S-400 anti-aircraft systems from Moscow,’’ he added.

Plans for the project arrive when "Turkey is suffering one of its worst economic crises in a generation and is facing a fourth coronavirus wave averaging over 56,000 new cases a day,’’ the analyst wrote.

Turkey’s strongman is using the project to signal his "ambition to turn Turkey into a regional power that will make both Russia and the United States dependent on it,’’ according to Bar’el.

At home, Erdoğan is battling with COVID-19 vaccine shortage and failures in distributing it amid spiking infection rates, the analyst said, as Ankara pledged to send 150,000 doses of the jab to war-torn Libya.

"All these problems are supposed to magically disappear in the waters of the Istanbul Canal,’’ Bar’el wrote.