NATO’s flotilla in Black Sea was on agenda of the alliance’s Summit in Warsaw, but at the last moment, the issue was postponed until October. Prior to the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Warsaw on July 8 their military planners will be charged to ask the defense ministers to discuss at their October meeting measures to enhance the Alliance’s presence not only on the ground, but also in the air and maritime.
Perhaps, the issue was postponed after the NATO member Bulgaria refused to join any NATO Black Sea fleet. Prior to the Summit in Warsaw, Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov said: "I have always been saying that I want the Black Sea to see sailboats, yachts, large boats with tourists and not become an arena of military action ... I do not need a war in the Black Sea."
In the meantime, the “cold war” is already underway in the region. The situation in the region is tense, says the analysis of the NATO Naval Forces in the Black Sea for 2013-2016 published by Ukraine-based foundation “Maidan of Foreign Affairs.” The Fund is engaged in monitoring of the Black Sea region. The Fund’s experts say the NATO warships entered the Black Sea 31 times in 2014 – the year of Crimea’s reunion with Russia: “It is the highest indicator since 2000.” In 2014-2015, this figured totaled 52.
By data of the foundation, on March 7 2014, after the U.S. Navy guided-missiles destroyer Arleigh Burke USS Truxtun entered the Black Sea, the NATO Naval Forces warships started sailing into the Black Sea regularly. “Since that day up to mid-November 2014, the warships of the NATO countries have been rotating each other in the Black Sea permanently,” according to the Ukrainian foundation’s analysis.
The authors present in details the NATO warships involved into the Black Sea campaign: “In 2014, a total of 19 warships of the alliance sailed into the Black Sea, 7 of which made several calls:
— Dupuy de Lôme, Destroyer USS Laboon, French Surveillance Ship, entered the Black Sea for 6 times in 2014;
— U.S. guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf — 3 times;
— The U.S. 6th Fleet command and control ship USS Mount Whitney, the guided missile frigate USS Taylor, guided missile destroyers Cook и USS Ross, and French frigate FS Surcouf – by 2 times.
The striking power of the NATO fleet in the Black Sea in 2014 was demonstrated by 7 guided missiles warships - guided missile cruiser and 4 U.S. guided missiles destroyers, French and Spanish guided missiles frigates equipped with Aegis Combat System.”
The geography of the NATO warship calls clearly defines the sail routes in the Black Sea and the Alliance’s interest in the peninsula: “Romanian naval base Costanza – 18 calls, Bulgarian naval bases Varna and Burgas – 12 calls, Georgian ports Batumi and Poti – 9 calls, Turkish naval bases Samsun and Trabzon – 2 calls.”
The authors of the analysis say the goals were clear too: “In general, the NATO warships sailed into the Black Sea in the period from 2014 and through mid-April 2015 to get first-hand view of the theater of military actions, collect intelligence data, deter Russia’s aggression and demonstrate moral support to Ukraine (the U.S. 6th fleet’s command has repeatedly mentioned that circumstance).”
In 2015, fewer but more combat-efficient NATO warships sailed into the Black Sea. “In 2015, NATO’s Black Sea fleet comprised more (11) warships with guided missiles as compared to 2014 (7 warships) – a U.S. guided missile cruiser and 6 guided missile destroyers, French, Portuguese, and Dutch guided missiles frigates equipped with Aegis Combat System.”
Although the report by the “Maidan of Foreign Affairs” Fund was presented as an analysis of the activity of the NATO Naval Forces in the Black Sea, its content hints at quite a different goal. It was published prior to the NATO Summit in Warsaw and largely covered Russia’s military power in Crimea. The authors demonstrate Russia’s military buildup on the peninsula not as a measure to protect it from the potential threats coming from NATO, but as a threat to Europe.
According to Ukrainian analysts, it has become clear in 2016 that the joint force grouping created in Crimea is capable of not only defending Crimea but also targeting ground-based facilities in Ukraine and farther. Coastal defense missile systems K-300P Bastion-P, Iskander-M, Iskander-K, Bal and Caliber-NK cruise missiles on the warships of Russia’s Black Sea fleet coupled with the Tu-22M3 supersonic bombers pose threat not only to the Black Sea coast, as it was believed previously, but also to Europe in general. The analysis brings an example saying, “If launched from Sevastopol, the Caliber-NK missiles of Russia’s Black Sea fleet are capable of striking targets in the territory of the Baltic States, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Greece, including the Crete Island, the Balkan States, Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iran and Iraq, the coastal area of Egypt, and the south of Italy.
In the current situation, the countries seeking escalation of tension in the Black Sea are discontented at the fact that under the Montreux Convention, Warships of non-Black Sea powers may not remain in the Black Sea longer than 21 days. The capacities of the Bulgarian and Romanian fleets are not big. As for Turkey, its forces are concentrated in the Mediterranean. Therefore, the authors of the analysis say the best option would be a NATO naval base on the Romanian coast and a permanent flotilla in the Black Sea. Earlier Romania suggested NATO something similar. Another question is how to form that flotilla. “A possible option is the transfer, sale, leasing of advanced warships in the reserve of the NATO countries and suitable for integration into the command-and-staff systems of the Alliance, for the naval forces of Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine,” the analysis says. Yet, it is not clear where Kiev and the other two poorest countries in Europe will find money for that.
The analysis is not an official document. It just presents the views of the pro-Western activists engaged in monitoring of the Black Sea region. However, the highlights in the analysis meet the stance of the Black Sea “hawks.” Turkish president has briefly presented their views: “I told him [NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg]: ‘You are absent from the Black Sea. The Black Sea has almost become a Russian lake',” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. “If we don’t take action, history will not forgive us.” As practice shows, the Black Sea “hawks” are ready for everything to either figure in history or get into a mess. Protecting the geopolitical interests of the United States and sometimes getting paid for it, they sacrifice the peace in the region and the welfare of their peoples. In Ukraine they have already defined the need for investments: “to resist the high threat of possible Russian seaborne assault on the Odessa coast and farther to Transnistria, it is so far possible to use the coastal defense, air defense force of Ukraine or the NATO fleet in the regions at-risk.”