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As NATO Plots Black Sea Dominance, Ukraine Joins the Fray

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As NATO Plots Black Sea Dominance, Ukraine Joins the Fray

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To boost NATO’s presence in the Black Sea, get creative, argues Luke Coffey of the Heritage Foundation in an analysis posted at Defense One on 30 May. The author begins by noting Russia’s improvements in anti-ship and anti-air missiles in the area, arguing that reflects Russia’s “big geostrategic goal of turning the Black Sea into a Russian-controlled lake.”

However, he then notes that three of the six Black Sea countries – Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania – are in NATO, and that two of the others – Ukraine and Georgia – are alliance partners and aspiring members. Nonetheless, he argues that Russia is poised to control the Black Sea, and that to counter Russia’s alleged objective: “Alliance fleets aren’t getting bigger to match Moscow’s moves in the region, so it’s time to think differently.”

“Part of the problem is the 1936 Montreux Convention, which limits the number, transit time, and tonnage of naval ships from non-Black Sea countries that may operate in the Bosphorus…

There are four creative ways that the Alliance should consider to get around these restrictions and increase its presence in the Black Sea:

  1. Establish a Black Sea Maritime Patrol mission modeled on the successful Baltic Air Policing mission, in which non-Black Sea members would commit to a regular and rotational maritime presence in the Black Sea…
  2. Germany’s Danube option (to send warships to the Black Sea via Romania)…
  3. The Danube-Black Sea Canal option. This man-made canal in Romania might offer an opportunity for non-Danubian and non-Black Sea states to reset the clock on the 21-day limit in the Black Sea in a similar way that Germany could do so using the Danube River. However, the canal is relatively small at 90 meters wide and can only handle ships up to 5,000 tons…
  4. A NATO-certified Center of Excellence on Black Sea Security in Georgia. There is no precedent for such a center in a non-NATO country, but there is nothing practically or legally preventing it from happening. Establishing one could improve NATO-Georgia relations while demonstrating how important the Black Sea region has become for Europe’s overall security…

All of these proposals require full involvement and consultation with Turkey, the NATO member with sovereign control of the straits. It should be explained to Ankara that nothing NATO will do in the Black Sea is meant to undermine this control. The goal is to increase NATO’s presence in the Black Sea to deter, and if required defeat, Russian aggression…

While NATO’s interest in Black Sea security is increasing, the overall presence of non-Black Sea NATO warships is not keeping up the pace. Something needs to change. The economic, security, and political importance of the Black Sea and the broader region is only becoming more important. NATO members need to be protected. The Alliance needs to chart a path to membership for Georgia and Ukraine. NATO must be prepared for any contingency with Russia.

The Alliance is required to defend Sofia and Bucharest in the same way it must defend Seville and Brussels…

Until NATO starts thinking creatively about complex challenges like increasing its presence in the Black Sea, Russia will continue to have the upper hand…” LINK

NATO’s strategic planners and military leadership have clearly demonstrated that they fully share this assessment, upping their presence in the airspace above and around the Black Sea as well as other major theatre’s on Russia’s borders (the Baltic, Kamchatka Peninsula, the Barents Sea, as well as the planned massive exercises of ‘Defender of Europe 2020’ throughout much of the rest of Europe). LINK

Describing the nature and objectives of the joint NATO air exercises that brought strategic long range bombers from the US to the skies of the Ukraine for the first time, a senior Air Force officer referred to the ‘rise of near-peer competitors’ and ‘increased tensions between NATO and our adversaries’, belligerent rhetoric against Russia and China surpassed by the belligerent nature of the exercises:

Two B-1B Lancers from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, marked their first-ever flight with Ukrainian Su-27 Flankers and MiG-29 Fulcrums last week over the Black Sea. At the same time, the long-range bombers also trained in launching the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, known as LRASM, U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa officials said Monday.

“The rise of near-peer competitors and increased tensions between NATO and our adversaries has brought anti-ship capability back to the forefront of the anti-surface warfare mission for bomber crews,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Albrecht of USAFE’s 603rd Air Operations Center…

“With the increase of maritime threats and their improvement of anti-access/area denial environmental weapons, this stealthy anti-ship cruise missile provides reduced risk to strike assets by penetrating and defeating sophisticated enemy air-defense systems.”

Officials recently told Military.com that practicing deploying LRASM is part of a broader Air Force Global Strike vision: As part of its mission “reset” for the B-1 fleet, the service is not only making its supersonic, heavy bombers more visible with multiple flights around the world, it’s also getting back into the habit of having them practice stand-off precision strikes — especially in the Pacific — signaling a dramatic pivot following years of flying close-air support missions in the Middle East…

The flight over the Black Sea with Ukrainian counterparts incorporated Turkish KC-135s, in addition to aircraft from Poland, Romania, Greece and North Macedonia for a “long-range, long-duration strategic #BomberTaskForce mission throughout Europe and the Black Sea region,” USAFE tweeted.

The latest integration exercises over Eastern Europe have not gone unnoticed.

On Monday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense noted an uptick in NATO and U.S. activity in the region, to include the B-1 transiting through the Sea of Okhotsk on May 22, and near the Kamchatka Peninsula last month.

Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, chief of the main operational directorate for the Russian General Staff, said U.S. bomber flights alongside NATO partners have “increased sharply” over the last several weeks.

“Strategic bombers flew in April #B1B along Kamchatka, and in May, five such flights were recorded,” the MoD said on Twitter. Rudskoy also noted the first-ever B-1 flight over Ukraine, which prompted a Russian Air Force Su-27 and Su-30SM to scramble and intercept the bombers.

Thus not just the frequency but also the offensive capabilities and prospective missions, targets and objectives of the flights have been expanded substantially.

Still considered a “strategic” bomber, the Lancer was originally designed as a nuclear bomber with a mission to fly at low altitude, sneaking into enemy territory in order to avoid Soviet early warning radars. However, in compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the once-nuclear bomber has been disarmed of nukes.

Dawkins said countries should expect more Bomber Task Force missions…

“There is just so much of a bigger signal sent with a bomber than with (shorter flights or) a couple of (F-16s)” LINK

While Ukraine has participated in NATO maritime exercises in the Black Sea for some time, the joint exercise with one of NATO’s front line strategic bombers in Ukrainian airspace – in which Turkey also participated – is a major step. In July of 2019:

“About 3,000 troops from 19 countries … (took) part in military drills in the Black Sea, an exercise that has raised concerns in Russia.

The 12-day Sea Breeze 2019 exercise, involving Ukraine, the U.S., a dozen other NATO allies and a few other nations, began Monday in the northwestern part of the Black Sea. It will involve 32 warships and 24 aircraft.

The Russian military says it is monitoring the exercise.

Relations between Russia and the West have plummeted to post-Cold War lows in the wake of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine…” LINK

The Ukraine and NATO are also taking ‘diplomatic’ action alongside their joint military exercises in their efforts to confront Russia and achieve a decisive strategic advantage:

“The Ukrainian delegation and partner countries constantly raise the issue of the ongoing occupation of Crimea at meetings of both policy-making bodies of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the Permanent Council and the Forum for Security Cooperation. However, for the first time, a separate session of the Forum’s security dialogue was devoted to the situation in the Azov-Black Sea region. This was achieved primarily due to Ukraine’s chairmanship of the Forum, which lasts from April to August.” LINK

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