10:54 GMT +325 March 2017
    Canadian helicopter Sea-King of the military ship Fredericton flies near Canadian military boat during a flying security patrol on January 9, 2010 in the Aden Gulf

    NATO Forced to Disband Indian Ocean Flotilla 'Thanks to Russia'

    © AFP 2017/ ARCEL MOCHET
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    This week, NATO country ships and aircraft officially ended Operation Ocean Shield – a mission launched in 2008 to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. Although officials have cited a drop-off in activity by Somali pirates, they've also admitted to a shift in the "global security environment," specifically the growing "threat" posed by Russia.

    Reuters quoted NATO spokesman Dylan White as saying that NATO has had to adapt to changes in its assessment of global security threats, including by "increasing maritime patrols in the Baltic and Black Seas." The spokesman didn't mention Russia specifically, but these bodies of water are two areas where NATO has significantly increased its presence over the last two and a half years, to the ire of Moscow. Reuters wrote that the effective disbandment of NATO's Indian Ocean task force was in line with efforts to "shift resources to deter Russia."

    White also noted that NATO is now "working to help counter human smuggling in the Mediterranean," ostensibly to help deal with waves of refugees coming from North Africa and the Middle East. This too helps explain the shifting of resources out of the Indian Ocean. NATO countries including the US, the UK and France had earlier been particularly active in these regions over the last decade and a half, including in their efforts to topple secular governments from Iraq to Libya and Syria.

    The Royal Danish Air Forces carried out NATO's final Indian Ocean surveillance missions on November 21. The NATO mission, as well as those by Russia, China, and other nations, has helped to reduce pirate attacks dramatically since 2012, down from the over 30 major ships attacked and captured between 2010 and 2011.

    NATO had fielded two multinational units –consisting of the so-called Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMG) 1 and 2, off the Somali coast, with ships and aircraft from the US, UK, Turkish, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Greek, German, Portuguese, Norweigian, Canadian and Danish navies. Each SNMG typically consisted of between five and seven ships at a time.

    Commenting on the redeployment, Alexei Fenenko, a senior researcher at the Moscow-based Institute of International Security Problems, noted that even though redeploying these groups wouldn't pose a serious threat to Russia, it does speak to the mindset of NATO's long-term anti-Russian strategy, announced in 2014 amid the crisis in relations between Moscow and Western nations over the situation in Ukraine.

    Fenenko recalled that "after Crimea's reunification with Russia, US Vice President Joe Biden clearly talked in Bucharest about the need to resist growing Russian power in the Black Sea, and the creation of a counterbalance. One of these countermeasures, he said, would be to increase pressure on Russia in the Baltic Sea, where Russia's position is weaker. This, [according to Biden] was something that should be taken advantage of."

    US Navy personnel are pictured aboard the USS Destroyer Donald Cook at the Constanta shipyard in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta
    US Navy personnel are pictured aboard the USS Destroyer Donald Cook at the Constanta shipyard in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta

    Later, "in Warsaw, US President Barack Obama said that Washington intends to deploy military infrastructure in Eastern Europe, pointing to three central US allies in the region – Romania, Poland and Estonia. He also urged NATO to expand its partnership with neutral countries, including Sweden and Finland. These decisions had been confirmed at the NATO Summit in Wales in September 2014. There too it was decided to strengthen the defense capabilities of Eastern European countries." 

    "If we take the Black Sea, there it would be unpleasant for us if the Americans signed an agreement with Bulgaria to lease the port of Burgas, something they have been negotiating for a long time; or if they do so with Georgia, leasing the port of Poti," the expert stressed. "If this happens, the US will automatically become a Black Sea Power, and thus destroy the existing regime in the Black Sea Straits under the Montreux Convention of 1936, under which passage for warships of non-Black Sea powers is granted only with Turkey's consent."

    Accordingly, Fenenko noted that given the danger of a permanent US presence in the Black Sea, which would be equivalent to Russia setting up shop in the Gulf of Mexico, Moscow "needs to negotiate with Turkey to preserve the existing Convention."

    As for dangers posed in the Baltic Sea, the analyst noted that Russia's security may be compromised if Finland's neutrality is eroded with the signing of an agreement on naval cooperation with NATO. "Secondly, this could happen if NATO members attempt to block our sea links with Kaliningrad by including Sweden and Finland into the alliance. Third, they are pushing for the creation of a permanent naval base in the Baltic countries."

    For his part, military expert and political analyst Ivan Konovalov explained that NATO's decision to fold up its Indian Ocean flotilla probably has more to do with trying to present Russia as a threat 'even more dangerous than the pirates' than anything else, similarly to how US and European officials have previously claimed that Russia is a danger on par with Ebola or even Daesh (ISIL/ISIS).

    In reality, Konovalov noted, the end of the NATO mission has to do with the fact that the alliance is optimizing its resources. "The coast of the Gulf of Aden in Djibouti has Italian, American, French, Japanese and Pakistani military installations, the Chinese are building their own base, India is active, and so are various private military contractors, who protect the ships passing through the area." Effectively, the analyst suggested, there's simply no longer any point for NATO to "hang around and collect its ships" in the area, which has already become sufficiently secure.

    Chinese navy warship, the DDG-171 Haikou destroyer, patrols the waters of the Gulf of Aden (file photo)
    Chinese navy warship, the DDG-171 Haikou destroyer, patrols the waters of the Gulf of Aden (file photo)

    At the same time, while Somali piracy continues, the kinds of brazen operations (including the seizure of major international cargos) of years past have declined, with the pirates now focusing on yachts and fishing boats, rather than major international cargoes. "In general, the life of a pirate is not the same it was 8 years ago, when they operated with virtual impunity. They had their people in London, the Suez, etc. Pirates did not simply attack – they knew specifically why to take a particular ship, and whether they would be paid insurance…Now this business has collapsed, and therefore NATO no longer needs to be present via their SNMGs," Konovalov concluded.

    Finally, Andrei Frolov, editor-in-chief of Arms Export magazine, said that he found it ironic that NATO was talking about the "threats posed by Moscow" while at the same time cooperating with Russia and China in the fight against Somali pirates all these years. "Apparently the decision to close down their operations was meant to remove any ambiguity," the analyst joked. 

    At the same time, Frolov admitted that there is an argument to be made about redeploying to the Mediterranean to deal with the problem of refugees. After all, he noted, "the Mediterranean Sea is a priority direction for European countries, in view of the situation in Libya, and refugee crisis and growing radicalism. The fight against the illegal trafficking of refugees has become a pressing issue for European NATO member countries."

    German Navy sailors surround a boat with more than 100 migrants near the German combat supply ship 'Frankfurt am Main' during EUNAVFOR Med, also known as Operation Sophia, in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, Tuesday, March 29, 2016
    © AP Photo/ Matthias Schrader
    German Navy sailors surround a boat with more than 100 migrants near the German combat supply ship 'Frankfurt am Main' during EUNAVFOR Med, also known as Operation Sophia, in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, Tuesday, March 29, 2016

    "As far as 'containing an aggressive Russia' is concerned, that, in my opinion, is simply the usual PR based on anti-Russian attitudes, and does not carry any deep meaning. As far as strengthening their positions in the Black Sea, NATO officials can say anything they want, but in reality there are constraints on their presence there," Frolov concluded. 


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    Operation Ocean Shield, expert commentary, expert analysis, Somali pirates, NATO, Baltic Sea, Europe, United States, Russia, Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, Black Sea
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    • avatar
      Russia's fault. Why is Russia NOT in Georgia? Get the port for Russia. Russia have Abkhazia. Create two military bases there.
      One for aerospace forces one naval. This will END BIDEN'S BULL HORN.
      Russia is too slow for ALL, while U.S DO things.
      And THIS is why Russia is been cut in size, and loses all the time. Is BEST to tackle the bully and don't try talking him out.
      Russia should be in CUBA with two bases.
      Russia WILL drag bones, until U.S do REGIME CHANGE. They ALREADY waiting for Castro to step down,. Then RUSSIA will be KICKED like in Ukraine, Iraq. Just KEEP dragging feet and talking.
      Actually , CASTRO will do a GIANT mistake. CREATE a power vacuum.
      Obama said U.SA will pursue democracy in CUBA< and will NOT give the base lands back.
      Perhaps the dance of the streets, is a sign of crying tomorrow.
    • Mikhas
      Good. These cowards are exhausting their resources on someone they can´t defeat. They are digging their own graves and Russia is handing out spades.
    • avatar
      Crowbarin reply tocast235(Show commentHide comment)
      cast235, You have some good points as if Russian I would agree 100%. The people in America are tired of things too. We are tired of war and of anti Russian talk as it sounds worst than the cold war.Putin has proved to many in the world he will protect his country and people. But he has proved to many he wants peace as we do too. We have some that are evil and using Russia as a false enemy but they are starting a new cold war.We voted Trump in with hope of peace as we have no reason to hate Russia but a handful are causing problems now. We are tired of it we are tired of the elite and hope Trump will work with Putin for peace. Putin asked for talks yet the elite were too arrogant to go talk with him to bring peace. We see this too,Putin is a big man for having hope and looking for peace as most here want to. There may always be bad elements but we are working on replacing them as we did getting Trump elected although MSM painted him as mentally ill and an outcast we didn't fall for it. I see your point but things may change soon ,and building bases in Cuba might work against peace. We have no hate of Russia and see no reason for picking a fight with someone who has shown this much restraint. We don't want missiles on the border of Russia as they are only causing problems and serve little purpose.Many see no use for NATO as it served its purpose but now is bringing us close to war rather than preventing it. I see Russia being cornered and think it is wrong whether out of meanness or fear. But Putin is wanting to offer peace and friendship to work together and we hope Trump will work with Russia as said .Just because our fathers didn't get along doesn't mean we have to keep fighting their war. If we can have peace that would be better and some like me have hope in Trump and Putin that they can help us fix this mess we are in.
    • avatar
      anne00mariein reply toCrowbar(Show commentHide comment)
      Crowbar, With regards 'your fathers not getting along', did you know that Russia actually saved America? Tzar Alexander II sent his fleet to sit outside New York and also San Francesco, between 1861-1862, in order to prevent Great Britain from invading, and giving Abraham Lincoln a lending hand. Funnily enough, the Shadow Government of the time (the same characters, different faces are still around) never forgave Russia.

      It would be nice if Trump and Putin can form some type of relationship, based on mutual respect.
    • avatar
      the next installment will talk about how nato countries need funds for more ships.
    • FlorianGeyerin reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)

      It would be far cheaper to supply all the NATO Top Brass with Video war games to play with instead of expensive toys manned by lots of diversity trained personnel.
    • avatar
      michaelin reply toFlorianGeyer(Show commentHide comment)
      Florian, or they could always grab some of the 1/2400 minis from GHQ or if the money is a problem, the 1/6000 scale minis from Hallmark. :)
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