Turkish Straits crisis
Part of the Cold War and the
Straits Question

The location of the Bosphorus (red) and Dardanelles (yellow) straits.
  • Low level:
    20 July 1936 – 6 August 1946
    (10 years, 2 weeks and 3 days)
  • High level:
    7 August 1946 – 30 May 1953
    (6 years, 9 months, 3 weeks and 2 days)[1]

Status quo ante bellum

  • The Soviet Union withdraws demands for a regime change on the Turkish straits
  • Turkey joins NATO
Supported by: Soviet Union Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders

The Turkish Straits crisis was a Cold War-era territorial conflict between the Soviet Union and Turkey. Turkey had remained officially neutral throughout most of the Second World War.[a] After the war ended, Turkey was pressured by the Soviet government to institute joint military control of passage through Turkish Straits, which connected the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.[2] When the Turkish government refused, tensions in the region rose, leading to a Soviet show of force and demands for territorial concessions along the Georgia–Turkey border.[3]

This intimidation campaign was intended to preempt American influence or naval presence in the Black Sea, as well as to weaken Turkey's government and pull it into the Soviet sphere of influence.[4] The Straits crisis was a catalyst, along with the Greek Civil War, for the creation of the Truman Doctrine.[2] At its climax, the dispute would motivate Turkey to turn to the United States for protection through NATO membership.


Importance of the straits

See also: Constantinople Agreement

The two gateways between the Black Sea and Mediterranean, the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, were important as a trade route from the Black Sea into ports all over the world for Turkey and its other Black Sea neighbors: the USSR, the Romanian People's Republic, and the People's Republic of Bulgaria, which were militarily aligned with one another.[5] The straits also served as an important component of military strategy; whoever wielded control of traffic through the straits could use them as an exit or entry point for naval forces to navigate the Black Sea while preventing rival powers from doing so.

Before the crisis, Russia had historically desired control of the Turkish straits, being one of the main reason for most of the later Russo-Turkish wars.

Diplomatic history

Until the latter half of the 1930s, Soviet–Turkish relations were cordial and somewhat fraternal. At the request of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Vladimir Lenin provided crucial military and financial aid to the Turkish National Movement in its struggle against the Ottoman monarchy and Western occupiers; two million gold Imperial rubles, 60,000 rifles, and 100 artillery pieces were sent in the summer of 1920.[6] Before they had even established official governments, the countries' revolutionary movements – the Turkish Government of the Grand National Assembly and the Bolsheviks of the Russian SFSR – recognized each other and pledged cooperation in the 1921 Treaty of Moscow.[7] The parties agreed to defer the final settlement on the status of the Black Sea and the Turkish Straits to a future conference.[8] The Straits resolution at Lausanne, signed on 24 July 1923 by the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Turkey, called for demilitarizing the Straits Zone and forming an international commission to control them.[9] The Soviets were never satisfied with this. In 1925, Turkey and the Soviet Union committed to abstain from participating in alliances or coalitions directed against each other. This "treaty of friendship and neutrality" was extended in 1935 for a ten-year term, with optional renewal intervals of two years scheduled after 1945.[10]

In 1934, Soviet diplomats secretly urged their counterparts to assent to bases on the Straits, a demand which British Ambassador Percy Loraine credited with helping strengthen Turkey-United Kingdom relations in the interwar period.[10] The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits was convened in 1936, with the governments of Australia, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, the Soviet Union, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia represented, to determine both military and regulatory policy for the Turkish straits.[11] The issue regained relevance due to the expansionist ambitions of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, as well as a fear that Bulgaria would take it upon itself to remilitarize the straits.[12] Under the terms of the treaty, signed on 20 July 1936, Turkey was given sole responsibility for regulating passages through the straits.[13] The Montreux Convention instituted rules for both merchant and military vessels which are stricter than international law typically allows, such as mandatory sanitation inspections and Turkish discretion to impose general fees on non-stopover voyages.[14] The treaty required all states to give prior notice to Turkish authorities before their warships transited the straits, while imposing limits on the size, quantity and type of warships eligible for entry to the Black Sea. Such blanket provisions contravene prevailing norms of innocent passage and transit passage.[14]

Joseph Stalin repeatedly challenged the agreements reached by the 1936 convention, asking as early as 1939 for an alternative arrangement. He proposed joint Turkish and Soviet control of the straits.[15] Upon signing the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany, Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov informed his German colleagues of his desire to forcefully take control of the straits and establish a military base in their proximity.[16]

Shortly after the Invasion of Poland began in September 1939, Turkish Foreign Minister Şükrü Saracoğlu traveled to Moscow, where he was snubbed by Stalin and pressured by Kremlin authorities to allow a Soviet military installation on the shore of the straits.[13][17]

The crisis


Tensions between the USSR and Turkey grew over Turkey not allowing the Soviet Fleet, with civilian crews to traverse the straits during WWII. After the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany, the Soviets returned to the issue in 1945 and 1946. Throughout 1946, American and Turkish diplomats frequently conversed on the issue. The 6 April 1946 visit of the American battleship USS Missouri further angered the Soviets. The ship had come to the region under the explanation that it was delivering the mortuary urn of the late Turkish Ambassador home, a claim which was dismissed by the Soviets as coincidental.[18]

Soviet message to Turkey

On 7 August 1946, the Soviets presented a note to the Turkish Foreign Ministry which stated that the way Turkey was handling the straits no longer represented the security interests of its fellow Black Sea nations. This drew attention to the occasions in which Italian and German warships had passed through the straits without conflict (the German ships were only detained by Turkish forces once the country declared war on Germany on 23 February 1945). The note concluded that the regime of the straits was no longer reliable and demanded that the Montreux Treaty be re-examined and rewritten in a new international conference.[19]

The US stance

When the issue was brought up at the Potsdam Conference, the President of the United States, Harry S. Truman, said the question of the straits was a domestic political issue pertaining to Turkey and the USSR, and should be solved by the two involved parties.[20] As the argument heated up in the days preceding Potsdam, the United States decided it firmly did not want the straits to fall into Soviet hands, as it would give them a major strategic gateway between the Black Sea and Mediterranean and possibly lead to a Communist Turkey. In a secret telegram sent by US Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson to diplomats in Paris, he explained the American position on the matter.[21]

In our opinion the primary objective of the Soviet Union is to obtain control over Turkey. We believe that if the Soviet Union succeeds in introducing into Turkey armed forces with the ostensible purpose of enforcing the joint control of the Straits, the Soviet Union will use these forces to obtain control over Turkey…. In our opinion, therefore, the time has come when we must decide that we shall resist with all means at our disposal any Soviet aggression and in particular, because the case of Turkey would be so clear, any Soviet aggression against Turkey. In carrying this policy our words and acts will only carry conviction to the Soviet Union if they are formulated against the background of an inner conviction and determination on our part that we cannot permit Turkey to become the object of Soviet aggression.

— Dean Acheson, Telegram to the Secretary of State at Paris – August 8, 1946

On 20 August 1946, Undersecretary Acheson met with fifteen journalists to explain the urgency of the situation and make the opinions of the United States Government known.[22]

Western support of Turkey and de-escalation

In the summer and autumn of 1946, the Soviet Union increased its naval presence in the Black Sea, having Soviet vessels perform manoeuvres near Turkish shores. A substantial number of ground troops were dispatched to the Balkans. Buckling under the mounting pressure from the Soviets, in a matter of days Turkey appealed to the United States for aid. After consulting his administration, President Truman sent a naval task force to Turkey.[23] On 9 October 1946, the respective governments of the United States and United Kingdom reaffirmed their support for Turkey.[24] On 26 October, the Soviet Union withdrew its specific request for a new summit on the control of the Turkish Straits (but not its opinions) and sometime shortly thereafter pulled out most of the intimidatory military forces from the region. Turkey abandoned its policy of neutrality and accepted USD $100 million in economic and defence aid from the US in 1947 under the Truman Doctrine's plan of ceasing the spread of Soviet influence into Turkey and Greece. The two aforementioned nations joined NATO in 1952.[25]

Continued debate (1947–1953)

The Turkish government appointed a new ambassador to Moscow, Faik Akdur, in November 1946. Turkish President İnönü instructed Akdur to focus solely on further development of relations with the Soviet Union. Akdur was also specifically forbidden to engage in talks regarding the straits if they did occur.[26]

The United States proposed that an international conference be held to decide the fate of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus once and for all. Then-Soviet Ambassador to Turkey, Sergei Vinogradov, responded in the form of a memorandum sent to the Soviet capital on 10 December 1946, asserting that a conference held in such a climate as described by the United States was unacceptable, in that the Soviet Union was certain to be outvoted. He predicted that, instead of a regime change, which was the steadfast and undying goal of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, the current infrastructure with which the straits were regulated would survive, albeit with some changes.[27]

The Soviet ambassador to Turkey during the first year and a half of the crisis, Sergei Vinogradov, was replaced by the Soviet Politburo in 1948. His successor, Aleksandr Lavrishev, came with a set of instructions from the Soviet Foreign Ministry which would prove to be the last momentous Soviet document on the straits.

If the Turks want to know our stand on the straits, an answer would be as follows: the Soviet position has been thoroughly stated in the notes dated August 7 and September 24, 1946.

— Soviet Foreign Ministry, Point No. 4 of the "Instructions for the Ambassador to Turkey" – March 29, 1948[28]

Border dispute

Main article: Soviet territorial claims against Turkey

Map showing Turkish territory claimed by the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1946.[29]

The Soviet Union wished for its border with Turkey to be re-negotiated so as to benefit the Armenian and Georgian SSRs. Deputy premier Lavrentiy Beria asserted to Stalin that a strip of Turkish-controlled territory stretching southwest from Georgia to Giresun (including Lazistan) had been stolen from the Georgians by the Turks under the Ottoman Empire.[30] In 1945, the Soviets declined to extend the 1925 non-aggression treaty, as Molotov conditioned its renewal on negotiations over Turkish-controlled territory.[31]


After the death of Joseph Stalin, motivation for a regime change declined within the Soviet government. On 30 May 1953, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov discontinued the Russian claims over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, as well as the other territorial disputes along the Turkish–Armenian–Georgian border.[32]

When Turkey joined Western-aligned NATO in 1952, Soviet hopes for a substantive thaw in relations were dashed.[33] The Montreux Treaty of 1936, with revisions, is still in place in the present day between the successor states of the USSR and Turkey.[34]

See also


  1. ^ In February 1945, weeks before the Nazis surrendered, Turkey declared war on Germany. Turkey never made any effort to participate in hostilities and entered the war only on paper to gain favor with the allies and profit from seizing German assets.


  1. ^ Rozakes, Chrestos (1987). Turkish Straits. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 43.
  2. ^ a b Knight, Jonathan (Autumn 1975). "American Statecraft and the 1946 Black Sea Straits Controversy". Political Science Quarterly. The Academy of Political Science. 90 (3): 451–475. doi:10.2307/2148296. JSTOR 2148296. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
  3. ^ Ro'i, Yaacov (1974). From Encroachment to Involvement: A Documentary Study of Soviet Policy in the Middle East, 1945–1973. Transaction Publisher. pp. 106–107.
  4. ^ De Luca, Anthony R. (Autumn 1977). "Soviet-American Politics and the Turkish Straits". The Academy of Political Science. 92 (3): 503–524. doi:10.2307/2148505. JSTOR 2148505. Retrieved 18 March 2022.
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  7. ^ Hasanli, Jamil (2011). Stalin and the Turkish Crisis of the Cold War, 1945–1953. Lexington Books. p. 1.
  8. ^ (in Russian) Московский договор между Росскией и Турцией, 16 марта 1921 года Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ MacFie, A.J. (1979). "The Straits Question: The Conference of Lausanne (November 1922 – July 1923)". Middle East Studies. Vol. 15. Taylor and Francis Ltd.
  10. ^ a b Bilgin, Mustafa Sitki; Morewood, Steven (March 2004). "Turkey's Reliance on Britain: British Political and Diplomatic Support for Turkey against Soviet Demands, 1943–47". Middle Eastern Studies. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 40 (2): 24–57. doi:10.1080/00263200412331301977. JSTOR 4289898. S2CID 144814335.
  11. ^ Christos L. Rozakis, Petros N. Stagos, The Turkish Straits, p. 123. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987. ISBN 90-247-3464-9
  12. ^ Christos L. Rozakis, Petros N. Stagos, The Turkish Straits, p. 101. Martinus Nijhoff, 1987. ISBN 90-247-3464-9
  13. ^ a b Süleyman, Seydi; Morewood, Steven (January 2005). "Turkey's Application of the Montreux Convention in the Second World War". Middle Eastern Studies. Taylor & Francis, Ltd. 41 (1): 79–101. doi:10.1080/0026320042000322725. JSTOR 4284346. S2CID 145771121.
  14. ^ a b Melino, Matthew; Nilufer Oral (2016). Conley, Heather (ed.). "History Lessons for the Arctic: What International Maritime Disputes Tell Us about a New Ocean". Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved 17 March 2022. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ Deborah Welch Larson, Origins of Containment: A Psychological Explanation, p. 203. Princeton University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-691-02303-4
  16. ^ Christos L. Rozakis, Petros N. Stagos, The Turkish Straits, p. 44. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1987. ISBN 90-247-3464-9
  17. ^ Corse, Edward (16 March 2021). "Turkey and the Soviet Union during World War II: Diplomacy, Discord and International Relations". Munitions of the Mind. University of Kent. Retrieved 15 March 2022.
  18. ^ "Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn". CA&CC Press AB. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  19. ^ "Soviet Plans Related to the Straits and their Failure". CA&CC Press AB. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  20. ^ Hasanli, Jamil (2011). Stalin and the Turkish Straits Crisis, 1945–1953. Lexington Books. p. 123.
  21. ^ "The Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of State at Paris". CA&CC Press AB. 8 August 1946. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  22. ^ Hasanli, Jamil (2011). Stalin and the Turkish Crisis of the Cold War, 1945–1953. Lexington Books. p. 233.
  23. ^ "Russian Pressure: Basis for US Aid in Turkey". acusd.edu. Archived from the original on 23 June 2006. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  24. ^ "Nota Velikobritanii—MID SSSR". CA&CC Press AB. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  25. ^ "Turkey 1." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2004.
  26. ^ Hasanli, Jamil (2011). Stalin and the Turkish Straits Crisis, 1945–1953. Lexington Books. p. 248.
  27. ^ Hasan, Jamil (2011). Stalin and the Turkish Straits crisis, 1945–1953. Lexington Books. pp. 248–249.
  28. ^ Hasanli, Jamil (2011). Stalin and Turkish Crisis of the Cold War, 1945–1953. Lexington Books. pp. 249–250.
  29. ^ Jamil Hasanli, "Stalin and the Turkish Crisis of the Cold War, 1945–1953" // The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series, Lexington Books, 2011, p. 188.
  30. ^ (in Russian) Рецензия на сборник «Армения и советско-турецкие отношения» Archived 18 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ Roberts, Geoffrey (2011). Molotov: Stalin's Cold Warrior. Potomac Books. pp. 107–108.
  32. ^ Hasanli, Jamil (2011). Stalin and the Turkish Crisis of the Cold War. Lexington Books. p. 250.
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  34. ^ "TURKEY." The Encyclopedia of World History. 2001.