U.S. Signals Support For Formal NATO Black Sea Presence
A senior American NATO official has signaled support for a proposal to create a regular alliance naval presence on the Black Sea, where tension has been rising between Russia and its maritime neighbors.
"There are some very valuable discussions under way among the allies who live on the Black Sea ... of more closely integrating their naval forces and operations," said NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, an American diplomat, referring to Bulgaria, Turkey, and Romania, Reuters reported. "We need to consider a more persistent NATO military presence in the region, with a particular focus on our maritime capabilities."
Vershbow was apparently referring to an idea, promoted by Romania, to creating a permanent NATO presence on the sea. Romanian officials also have said that their proposal envisages cooperation with non-NATO partners on the Black Sea, in particular Georgia and Ukraine, as well as the United States. The proposal looks to be considered at the alliance's June summit in Warsaw, as the alliance continues to build up its military presence along Russia's borders.
Separately, the nominee to be the next NATO military commander, U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, and while he wasn't asked about the NATO/Black Sea proposal, he was asked about the possibility of positioning an American aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea to respond to "the growth of Russian military presence in the Black Sea and in the Eastern Mediterranean." Scaparrotti didn't commit: "In my opinion, positioning an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean would send a strategic message not only to the Russians but also to ISIS, and Iran and its proxies," he said, but added that other global priorities may prevent that from being realized. He added: "Our NATO Allies including Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria play a significant role to demonstrate our presence and commitment to the region."
Russia's ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, also addressed the question of the NATO Black Sea presence this week, and warned that the alliance should not seek to violate the Montreux Convention, which limits the amount of time that warships of countries not bordering the Black Sea can spend on the sea.
We know that among Black Sea states, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are maritime powers and they have fleets in the Black Sea. Whether you put them together in a group or not — that is up to the armed forces. But it is of crucial importance that the Montreux Convention regime remains inviolable. It is one of the key international agreements providing regional stability and safety....
We believe there should be no attempts to change this regime to make it easier for extra-regional powers to be present in the Black Sea
Given that NATO hasn't given any indication that it foresees any change in the Montreux Convention, this is a fairly mild objection. But he still issued a general threat: "NATO should be in a position to know that all necessary steps will be taken from our side to neutralize the emerging threats," Grushko added.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.