Turkey has signaled that it intends to start work this year on its long-discussed Kanal Istanbul project, an artificial canal connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The project has faced controversy within Turkey for its cost, environmental impact and potential for corruption. But its international implications could be substantial as well, threatening the delicate regional military balance and impacting maritime trade with the Caucasus and Central Asia. 

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in early April that a tender would be issued and preliminary construction work would begin this year on the 45-kilometer ship canal. 

Plans for the canal were first unveiled by Erdogan, then prime minister, in 2011 in what he himself described as a “crazy project.” Its stated purpose is to create a safer transit route for oil tankers to transport crude from the Black Sea to global markets, which now traverse the narrow,…

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