Romania, Ukraine say more troops are needed on the Black Sea

WASHINGTON Ukraine and Romania want their Western allies to step up their military presence in the Black Sea as they accuse Russia of militarizing the region, according to letters obtained by Defense News.

Their overlapping warnings – that Russian aggression and missile system deployments in Crimea threaten the allies more broadly – came in dispatches from each country’s ambassador to the US Senate subcommittee for cooperation. on regional and European security before his hearing on the Black Sea last week.

“Russia has established the large area of ​​exclusion anti-access / denial of area (A2AD) on [the Black Sea]‚” Ukraine envoy Oksana Markarova wrote in her October 29 letter, adding that Moscow is using the region as a springboard for its operations in Syria. “NATO’s ability to defend its member states and to provide possible assistance to third countries (Ukraine and Georgia) has been severely compromised.

“The increasing militarization of the Crimean Peninsula endangers not only the states bordering the Black Sea, but also [the] much wider region, ”the ambassador wrote, adding that NATO should develop joint response plans in the event that Russia undertakes an armed attack on the Black Sea.

Last month, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited NATO ally Romania and alliance candidates Ukraine and Georgia as part of a tour to reassure the allies and urge them to cooperate on the Black Sea. During the trip, which ended at NATO headquarters in Brussels, neither Austin nor NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg unveiled plans for increased forces on the Black Sea.

“There is no change in our operational capability or our deterrence posture,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Anton Semelroth said Thursday. “We operate regularly in the Black Sea and in many other areas across the region, which is part of our continued commitment and assurance to our allies and NATO partners.”

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The conversation comes as tension between Moscow and the West plummeted after the Cold War following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia in 2014, its support for a separatist insurgency in the east. of Ukraine and other irritants.

Along with its ongoing economic and diplomatic efforts, Romania has said it is already spending $ 3 billion to expand its Mihail Kogălniceanu air base by nine in a bid to accommodate an expanded US and Allied presence.

Its main recommendation is that the allies create a comprehensive Black Sea strategy, but point two recommends Romania as a hub for increased joint exercises, pre-positioned military equipment and new forces. At present, NATO’s tailor-made forward presence in the region consists only of a headquarters element in Romania.

“Credible deterrence can only be assured by a strong presence,” reads the October 26 letter from Romanian envoy Andrei Muraru. “Increased US military presence in Romania in all areas of land, air and sea including an American command and control structure.”

“Securing NATO’s eastern flank in a unitary and cohesive manner from the Baltic to the Black Sea, implementing a single forward presence across the flank that provides a stronger defense and reduces current vulnerabilities caused by the ‘undeniable deterrence gap for the Black Sea region,’ the letter continued.

Romania also reiterated its support for Georgia and Ukraine’s goal of joining NATO, which Russia strongly opposes.

Beyond the United States helping Ukraine to continue rebuilding its naval forces, Kiev wants Washington’s support for a NATO presence on the Black Sea similar to NATO’s forward presence on the Baltic Sea. . NATO maintains four multinational battalion-sized battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Another of Ukraine’s recommendations is: “Intensify NATO’s rotating naval presence in the Black Sea, to support freedom of navigation and facilitate trade routes”.

A sailor from the US destroyer Ross prepares a machine gun during Sea Breeze 2021 maneuvers on the Black Sea in July. (Efrem Lukatsky / AP)

While the region’s complicated politics and history make it difficult to develop a regional or NATO-led approach, some experts believe that the intensification of Russia’s military activities could be a galvanizing force – if states -United lead the way. Turkey, a NATO ally, which dominates the Black Sea, has always been reluctant to have a Western military presence there and shares close but complicated ties with Moscow.

At last week’s hearing on the Black Sea, Ian Brzezinski, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy under the George W. Bush administration, suggested that states -United, if Turkey is initially resistant, show creativity and form a regional coalition. nations.

“Stand up, prove its worth, and the next thing you know, you’ll have a country like Turkey knocking on the door and saying, ‘How can I be a part of it? “And that’s how it suddenly becomes a NATO organization,” he said.

Brzezinski, among experts who have testified in favor of a West-led Black Sea strategy and military presence, suggested the presence could include an intelligence fusion cell, coastal batteries and forces. land supported by an American brigade combat team in Romania and Bulgaria.

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The Kremlin, meanwhile, is angered by other Western actions on the Black Sea.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 1 stressed the need to strengthen the country’s air defenses, he highlighted NATO’s military activities near Russia’s borders. This included the deployment of US-led NATO missile defense components in Eastern Europe and increasingly frequent missions by NATO ships near Russian waters in the Baltic and Seas Black.

“We still need to improve our air and space defense system, as the major powers have developed potential high-speed strike weapons,” Putin said at a meeting in Sochi with Russian military leaders. “This is also justified by the military-political situation, in particular the increasingly intensive flights of NATO planes near Russia and the appearance of alliance warships armed with guided missiles in the Baltic Sea. and the Black Sea. “

Russia recently suspended its NATO mission and ordered the alliance’s Moscow office to be closed after NATO withdrew the accreditation of eight Russian officials at NATO headquarters, saying they believed ‘they were secretly working for Russian intelligence. Another source of tension is the deployment of US and other NATO ships near waters he claims to be his own.

“Even now an American warship has entered the Black Sea, and we can see it through binoculars or in the reticle of our defense systems,” Putin said, apparently referring to the deployment of the American destroyer Porter, which had sailed in the Black Sea. and was to be joined this week by Mount Whitney, the flagship of the US Navy’s 6th Fleet.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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