11:07 GMT +328 March 2017
    A US Navy officer, name not available, looks on at the weapons control deck of the USS Monterey in the Black Sea port of Constanta, Romania, Tuesday, June 7, 2011

    Why NATO's Growing Presence in Black Sea Won't Change the Strategic Balance

    © AP Photo/ Vadim Ghirda
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    On Tuesday, warning that the North Atlantic Alliance seems to be looking to up the ante of NATO-Russian confrontation in the Black Sea, Russian NATO envoy Alexander Grushko emphasized that the body of water will never become "NATO's Lake." Speaking to a leading independent Russian online newspaper, military experts explained why this is the case.

    Earlier this week, in an interview for Russia's Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, Grushko warned that "NATO is trying to move confrontational schemes into the Black Sea."

    "Recently," the envoy recalled, "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the transformation of the Black Sea into a 'Russian Lake' was not acceptable. But NATO knows perfectly well that the Black Sea will never become a 'NATO Lake', and we will take all necessary measures in order to neutralize possible threats and attempts to exert pressure on Russia from the south."

    Grushko noted that unfortunately, the alliance has already begun a buildup in the region, including an intensification of NATO maritime patrols in the, AWACS surveillance flights, and the deployment of US Marines to Romania.

    Last month, speaking to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Erdogan complained that "the Black Sea has almost become a Russian Lake," adding that "if we do not act now, history will not forgive us."

    Meanwhile, in April, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow remarked that Moscow "threatens to challenge Alliance unity, as well as our territorial integrity," including in the Black Sea region. "Our approach to deterrence and defense must be equally broad [and] far-reaching," the official added. "Cooperation between Allies – especially between our Black Sea allies Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, and involving the United States, will be key to the security challenges we face."

    Earlier this year, Romania indicated that it would be proposing the creation of a new NATO Black Sea fleet consisting of ships from Germany, Italy, Turkey and the United States at the alliance's upcoming summit in Warsaw next month. In response, warning that the initiative threatened to undermine regional security, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Russia would be forced "to take adequate measures in response to ensure its own security" if NATO went ahead with the plans. 

    Asked to comment on the prospects of the NATO initiative going ahead, Russian military experts Mikhail Alexander, Konstantin Sivkov and Vladimir Romanenko spoke to the Russian online newspaper Svobodnaya Pressa about what exactly those 'adequate measures' might be.

    Alexandrov, a senior expert at the Center for Military-Political Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, explained that while NATO has the capability to grow its presence in the region, this will not have any impact on the strategic balance between Russia and the alliance.

    "NATO really is looking to strengthen its naval group in the Black Sea, and the Montreux Convention can't prevent it from doing so," Alexandrov noted. 

    "Most likely," he added, "the ships will be part of a NATO squadron operating on a rotating basis. What's more, the alliance has many members, and it would be sufficient if each of them were to send maybe one ship to the Black Sea, thus enabling them to bypass tonnage restrictions. Finally, [major NATO seapowers] can strengthen the fleets of some countries – Romania, Bulgaria and even Georgia, handing over some of their own warships to them. I won't even mention Turkey, which is allowed to stage an unlimited number of warships in the Black Sea. As a result, the alliance will have no problems in creating a strong flotilla."

    Nevertheless, the defense analyst emphasized that from a strategic perspective, such a buildup would give NATO "almost nothing" in terms of gaining an advantage against Russia. 

    "Judge for yourself: Russia's [K-300P] Bastion-P anti-ship coastal defense complexes are equipped with Onyx missiles. These Mach 2.6 supersonic missiles are highly maneuverable, with a complicated flight route, are able to climb to 15,000 meters, and then swoop down to an altitude of only 10-15 meters above sea level. They are difficult to detect against sea waves using radar. When the first missile locks on to its target, it transmits the information to others. In this way, Onyx missiles effectively distribute targets between one another."

    What's more, Alexandrov noted, "the Bastion is capable of striking enemy ships at long range – nearly 300 kilometers. Add to this the fact that with the help of the Monolith-B radar station, the system is capable of obtaining over-the-horizon target designation," (making it capable of detecting targets at ranges of hundreds or thousands of kilometers beyond radar horizon).

    Russia's Bastion-P coastal defense missile system during a parade rehersal.
    © Sputnik/ Sergey Pivovarov
    Russia's Bastion-P coastal defense missile system during a parade rehersal.

    "In effect, Bastion complexes cover a significant area of the Black Sea. In any case, we can say that NATO ships will not be able to come close to Russian shores. At the same time, we have the Su-24 supersonic attack aircraft, already deployed in Crimea. They are capable of carrying cruise missiles, and able to hit targets all the way to the Turkish Straits."

    "Finally," the analyst recalled, "the Black Sea also has several Russian Warszawianka-class submarines equipped with the Kalibr sea-based cruise missile. These are also capable of raking the entire Black Sea with fire."

    Ultimately, Alexandrov emphasized that he is convinced that NATO is not capable of establishing superiority in the Black Sea. "NATO can puff itself up as much as it wants, but the balance of forces will remain in our favor. In fact, by deploying a naval group to the Black Sea, NATO puts it at risk of a strike which would destroy these ships" in the event of war.

    "And so, we need to react to the alliance initiative calmly. It's another thing if NATO began butting in on our territorial waters. And here we will have to do something: to displace NATO ships, our ships may have to ram them," the analyst said.

    Incidentally, Russia's Black Sea Fleet already has experience with that maneuver: 

    The USS Caron literally getting pushed out of Soviet territorial waters by the SKR-6 Mirka-class frigate. The USS Yorktown was also pushed out by the frigate Bezzavetny, suffering minor hull damage and being forced to return return to port for repairs.

    Asked by Svobodnaya Pressa what NATO's strategic goal might be, given that they must realize that any new Black Sea naval group cannot threaten Russia strategically, Alexandrov emphasized that what the alliance is trying to do is "to exert military and political pressure on us; to intimidate us and limit our activity. But I will repeat that we have nothing to worry about: from a military-strategic point of view, NATO's actions can change very little."

    For his part, defense analyst and Captain First Rank Konstantin Sivkov insisted that the creation of such a fleet would be a violation of the Montreux Convention. "Even during the Soviet period, when the countries of the Warsaw Pact dominated the Black Sea, NATO hesitated to deploy ships to the Black Sea," the analyst said.

    "If NATO takes this step now, it can be regarded as a flagrant violation of international law, and even as an act of military aggression against Russia – with all the corresponding consequences," Sivkov added.

    Asked about the number and class of ships most likely to join such a flotilla, the analyst predicted that it will "most likely consist of frigates and submarines," given that "larger ships would find themselves cramped and useless in an area the size of the Black Sea." As for their numbers, he predicted that "at first, the flotilla will probably be small; but then it can be built up to 12-13 ships."

    In Sivkov's view, if NATO goes ahead with the deployment, Russia will have to respond by increasing its own naval arsenal in the area.

    For his part, Major-General Vladimir Romanenko, the former head of the coastal defense troops of the Soviet and Russian Black Sea fleets, recalled that for warships of non-Black Sea area states, the Montreux Convention imposes significant restrictions.

    "The total tonnage of warships of non-Black Sea countries must not exceed 30,000 tons, with a period of stay not exceeding 21 days. It's not exactly clear how NATO plans to get around these restrictions," Romanenko noted.

    Accordingly, the officer suggested that "NATO plans at present look like an attempt to deliberately create tensions [to Russia's] south. At the same time, by my estimations, any NATO squadron, in combat conditions, would not survive any longer than 5-7 minutes."

    "It's another matter that the alliance's policy is forcing us to pause and think: It seems that in the present circumstances, the Black Sea Fleet is becoming our outpost in the southern direction. Over the years that Crimea was in Ukraine's possession, the Fleet's defense capabilities decreased significantly, and now, it appears, they need to be strengthened in terms of ships, aircraft and naval defense systems," Romanenko concluded.


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    • avatar
      Montreux Convention will be violated by the US just as it does with other conventions and laws. Sooner or later the US will step over the line and attract retaliations. As is always the case with the US they tend to confuse ambition with their capabilities and as usual come out 2nd best, with or without NATO.
    • avatar
      NATO want to encircle and isolate Russia,with the hope that Russia will crumble internally before they will launch an invasion.

      Another strategy of NATO is to provoke Russia into a conflict in the black sea and in the region, just as in Eastern Ukraine.
    • avatar
      Large surface ships are obsolete in the missile age.
    • FeEisi
      Bastion-P needs upgraded range of 400-600km to properly defend shores. The upgraded range will be backup should Russian aircraft carriers become disabled or undergoing maintenance.

      This article says carriers are need at the 400-600km range to defend shores. Bastion's with more range can be backup.
    • avatar
      Their is no strength in a NATO fleet it will be sunk in minuets in a war.Who are they trying to fool.
    • avatar
      There is no international law, the strong eat the weak, the weak eat dirts. Yes, you don't need argument if you are strong because no one will bullying you. Any counter measure no matter how strong, wouldn't it be better if hundreds of miles away? Would Russia prefer to fight a large fire away from home or next to Russia door? Layman would prefer to fight a fire far away from home, safer that way.
    • What the presence of all those NATO ships in the Black Sea enables is the landing of commandos and sappers under cover of dark. I don't know how good Russian radar is at detecting small craft such as inflatable dinghies.
    • avatar
      It's better for NATO pilots to retire alive and play with grand children.
      It's horrible to die in a ball of fire and no grand child.
    • avatar
      copiusin reply topeaceactivist2(Show commentHide comment)
      Near to home, you have good logistics and you know the terrain well.
      You can draw the enemy into a trap for a kill
    • avatar
      When it comes time to fight, the nato floating fleet of babel will go the same way as the tower of babel. All nation and language for himself and god for all.
      I wonder where will the nato commanders be hiding if and when the fire starts.
      The usa plan to be the winners. They will not worry about international laws, and with the mindset of Iran, Libya, Afghanistan et al, where they plan to take down and then que sera, sera much later on. Their objective, completely destroy and then we will talk.
      However, I think that the war donkeys (29+) will have cold feet and return to their home ports. Their economies cannot sustain them in the Black Sea for long, neither will their electorates.. Russia, while nato is running back home, psychologically wounded, should take those Black sea coastal dimwits in quick time, then the baltic war donkeys, all in one day. That will be the most opportune time to start that new Russian union!
    • avatar
      Theon drones with night vision will actively patrol the coast and be able to target and call in missile drone to finish job!
    • avatar
      Manuel Flores
      Time that Russia just deploy a few fighters aircraft, as NATO did the same in Baltic countries near Russia border!...
    • avatar
      This move by the US/NATO alliance should be viewed in the context of their overall strategy, not as a separate and independent move. If the Black Sea plan is adopted and the US/NATO alliance places submarine and surface based cruise missiles in the Black Sea then an initial attack from all directions on Russia becomes possible. The first attack will come from a barrage of cruise missiles hitting military command and control centers and key civilian targets. Now, if you take that into account and you do not view the Black Sea NATO proposal as an isolated action but as part of a greater invasion plan then it makes sense. The Russian experts cited here are looking at the situation as if any action will be based on the Black Sea alone which in reality is only one component of the attack plan. Even if the US/NATO flotilla is completely wiped out it would only be after it has accomplished it's mission.
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