Defence Competitors of the Baltic Sea. I. Do we See Changes in the Focus of NATO from the Baltic to Black Sea?

In the middle of June the website War on the Rocks published a text of American military experts – Major General (retired), former US Commander of Ground Forces in Europe Ben Hodges, former US Army Military Attaché in Poland …

In the middle of June the website War on the Rocks published a text of American military experts – Major General (retired), former US Commander of Ground Forces in Europe Ben Hodges, former US Army Military Attaché in Poland Ray Wojcik, Fellow of the Centre for European Policy Analysis in the USA Janusz Bugajski and Senior Coordinator of the Centre of Analysis CEPA Transatlantic defence and security programmes Karsten Schmidt, in which they gave arguments on the need of more close coordination of NATO in order to have better defence of the eastern flange of Europe from potential aggression of Russia. In their opinion the region of the Black Sea should become the priority seeking the required coordination. ‘What is going on in Ukraine is not necessarily related to it’, authors mentioned and indicated that aggression of Moscow there posed a threat to safety of all NATO allies.
In the opinion of the authors of the publication after the United States withdraw a significant number of military contingents from Germany (12 thousand soldiers out of 34-35 thousand), the Alliance shall have to apply a more coordinated strategy in order to protect the eastern border and obviously resist objective of Moscow to increase its military participation in Europe. They recommend NATO to consider the Black Sea region as important in a strategic point of view and thus ‘establish’ its preferential status. In regards to this they suggest making changes in formation of the present multilayer programmes Forward Presence not only for the Baltic but also for the Black Sea region.
At the time being NATO considers the Baltic Sea region preferential and mostly exposed in case of the Russian aggression while there are a lot of serious defence gaps around the Black Sea. In the opinion of experts Moscow can make use of them there.     
One practical step mentioned in the article published by War on the Rocks is necessity to strongly implement the plan of joining Ukraine and Georgia to NATO. The first should be encouraged to observe Western procedures in military purchases and improve military cooperation with Georgia. The members of the Alliance must also demonstrate their support to the candidates through bigger investments to economical development of these countries. 
Talking about potential changes in the focus of NATO from the Baltic to Black Sea we should also have in mind that on 17 June Turkey once again blocked NATO Eagle Defender  defence action plan to the Baltic States and Poland despite promises of the president Recep Tayyip Erdogan given in December last year not to do so. As three diplomats of the Alliance and defence officer of France indicated to the news agency this blockade is continuation of the controversy between Turkey and allies of NATO, first of all between Paris and Washington regarding military campaign of Turkey against Kurds in the north of Syria last year. NATO defence plans to the Baltic States and Poland were prepared after Russia annexed Crimea peninsula of Ukraine in 2014. According to , although these plans are not connected with military strategy of Turkey in Syria, conflicts pose a threat to security in all sections of NATO. NATO has developed military strategies for defence of all member states.
A statement of Editor in Chief, Coordinator of Ukrainian Maritime Expert Platform Andrei Klimenko of the web portal , made during a discussion ‘Challenges and Threats in the Region of the Black Sea’ on 31 July about a high probability that Russia will start military actions in the Black Sea blends nicely with the context of the problem formulated by American experts. The expert said the probability is more than 50 percent (maybe even 70-80 percent). According to A. Klimenko, in September-October a lot of factors will concur such as concentration of the military forces of Russia in the region in connection with traditional trainings of soldiers ‘Causacus-2020’ and local elections in Ukraine. The expert indicated another important circumstance that Russians might have a possibility to transfer military units in several days to Armyansk, Krasnoperekopsk and Dzhankoy, in the north of the occupied Crimea at the border with Ukraine by the railway line opened just recently by Kerch Bridge. 
Commander of the NATO Naval Command Jeanette Morang in the program of the Ukrainian TV channel  ‘Actually: Peace’ on 30 July emphasized a particularly high importance of the Black Sea. She reminded that 80 percent of the global trade is carried out by sea, the officer singled out necessity to secure freedom of navigation and free access to the shore-based infrastructure to all states of the Black Sea region as the major condition for their welfare. J. Morang emphasized peculiarity of this region – navigation in the Black Sea regulated by Montreal Convention limits staying of the vessels of the countries that have no shores with the sea up to 21 days, which from the first sight limits a possibility of full manoeuvres of NATO.
Another peculiarity is the objective of Russia to change borders that settled after World War II (Crimea and Abkhazia) and increase its military possibilities in this region. In recent years Moscow significantly increased the number of military frigates and the latest submarines in the Black Sea. According to J. Morang, this was not a surprise to NATO. In reply to this the Alliance decided to increase its participation in this region, too.    
The First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Emine Dzhaparova was talking about militarization of the occupied Crimea as a threat of Russia both to the region of the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea during her meeting with Vasilios Barnovas, Ambassador of Greece to Kiev on 11 July.    
Actual knowledge supports the rising level of military mobilization at the Black Sea. On 20 July the President of Russia accompanied by Deputy Minister Yury Borisov, Deputy Minister of Defence Aleksey Krivoruchko and Commander of the Russian Navy Nikolay Yevmenov, participated in the ceremony of opening the construction in the Kerch Shipbuilding plant Zaliv occupied by Russians. Making comments about the visit of the highest officers of Moscow in Crimea annexed by Russia, presidential representative in the peninsula of Ukraine Anton Korynevych indicated that the problem is not the fact of the visit, but the fact that occupants in the territory that has been separated temporarily from Ukraine are building military vessels for themselves, which poses threat to security of all states of the Black and Azov Sea region.   
On 12 August the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine filed a note of protest with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia regarding in its opinion unlawful training for Russian Black Sea navy in temporarily occupied territories of Crimea Autonomic Republic and Sevastopol. The note specified that by the training Moscow again demonstrated open ignorance of international law, statute of the United Nations (UN), resolutions of the General Assembly of the UN and laws of Ukraine. Kiev called training a forward arousal of tension in the region of Azov – Black Sea that undermines stability of all Europe.
Such actions produce a reaction – NATO fulfils its obligations to allies. We also wrote about the status of the member of expanded possibilities program granted to Ukraine by NATO (the text ‘Eastern Partnership is a Virus of Freedom’), by admitting contribution of Ukrainians to operations and missions of the Alliance. Membership in the program grants a better access to NATO programs and trainings and more intensive exchange of information. In other words, offers the same possibilities that have been used by countries participating in the program such as Finland, Sweden, Georgia, Australia and Jordan. Minister of Defence of the United Kingdom (UK) Ben Wallace, in welcome of the new member, distinguished close and improving cooperation of his country and Ukraine in the military area – military officers trained one thousand of Ukrainian colleagues.
More frequently we can see visits of NATO military vessels in the Black Sea and participation in common military trainings with regional states. Two groups of the military vessels of the Alliance entered the Black Sea on 9 July to participate in two regional exercises. One of them was organized by the navy of Ukraine and Bulgaria. NATO vessels of the second group of the navy from Spain, Romania and Turkey (the flagman was Spanish frigate Alvaro de Bazan) and also vessels of the regional partner Georgia. After exercises all vessels temporarily moored in Odessa port, where they resided for 21 days. 
Two thousand military officers from nine states, 27 vessels and 19 aircrafts were taking part in traditional (the tenth) exercises Sea Breaze-2020 that started on 20 July. One element of exercises was training of Ukrainian coast guard vessels together with American guided missiles destroyer USS Porter (this vessel has been taking part in exercises in the Black Sea for several years) and scout aircraft Poseidon P-8A shooting to fast moving small targets. According to the statement of Vice Admiral Jean Black, Commander of the US 6 fleet that owns USS Porter, communicated by the press service, participation in the exercises confirmed faithfulness of the United Stated to the Alliance and preparation of the USA to participate in the collective defence of Europe.
After Sea Breeze-2020 exercises the guided missiles destroyer USS Porter, the aircraft Poseidon P-8A and also four fighters F-16, unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-9 Reaper, aerial refuelling vessel KC-135 Stratotanker stayed in the Black Sea and on 2 August participated in several trainings of regional partners, where they trained how properly react to threats in the region of the Black Sea.  
Statements and facts laid here do not prove that NATO ‘has abandoned’ the Baltic Sea and we have safety inflation in our region, where routine big Russian military trainings Okeaski schit-2020 started on 3 August. Over 30 various types of vessels, navy aviation, coastal guard, missile defence units and marines participated in trainings.    
Simply the situation not only around the Baltic Sea and also further (which does not mean that we can recklessly separate processes taking place there from the processes here according to the principle ‘we don’t care’) is getting more complicated. We cannot just ignore it. We have to accept diversification of investments to security.
Arūnas Spraunius

Voras Online
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