By Huseyin Hayatsever
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria plan to sign a deal in January on a joint plan to clear mines floating in the Black Sea as a result of the war in Ukraine, Turkish Defence Minister Yasar Guler said on Saturday, after months of talks between the NATO allies.
Black Sea states Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria met officials from Georgia, Poland and Ukraine in April 2022 to discuss clearing the mines after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Defence ministers from the three countries also held talks on the plan at a NATO meeting in Brussels in October, and in Ankara last month as they worked to finalise the initiative.
Speaking to reporters at a meeting in Ankara, Guler said the “Trilateral Initiative” would only include Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria for now, and their defence ministers planned to hold a signing ceremony in Istanbul on Jan. 11.
“Due to the Ukraine-Russia war, there are mines placed in both Ukrainian and Russian ports. These untangle sometimes and reach our straits due to the current,” Guler told journalists.
“Our mine-clearing vessels will carry out constant patrols to the point where Romania’s (sea) borders end,” he added.
Britain said on Monday it would transfer two Royal Navy minehunter ships to the Ukrainian Navy, as it sets up a new maritime defence coalition alongside Norway to help strengthen Ukraine’s sea operations.
Turkey, which maintains good ties with both Kyiv and Moscow, is also working with the United Nations, Ukraine, and Russia to revive the Black Sea grain initiative which Moscow quit earlier this year, though there have been no public signs of progress on those talks.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by Giles Elgood)