Only a military drone cannot disappear in the Black Sea.
This week’s dramatic shootout with Russian warplanes drew world attention to the waters that have been at the heart of the war in Ukraine.
But it also raised an important security question for Washington and its allies: Is there a clear strategy for a vital waterway that has long been a focus of rivalry between Moscow and the West and could now become a major flashpoint?
Lawmakers and former military officials said the north is of particular concern as a deal to move vital supplies of grain out of Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea sits in the balance and Russia’s fleet is ready for attacks against Ukrainian cities. Uses the area as a launchpad.
depth of conflict
Described by some as “a potential powder keg”, the Black Sea is slightly larger than California and has six countries on its shores: NATO members Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria as well as Georgia and Ukraine, which are considered US partners. But they are not part of the alliance.
And then there is Russia.
At one time, the US helped allies match its presence in the Black Sea and conducted exercises there, but the Biden administration pulled US ships from the area when it appeared the Russians were preparing to invade Ukraine . Turkey is now blocking warships from entering the sea through the Bosphorus strait, which it controls and can close in times of war.
That means the United States has no means of recovering the drone that the US said crashed into the Black Sea on Tuesday after colliding with a Russian fighter jet.
“It points to a lack of a comprehensive approach to a region that is not only important to our allies and countries bordering the Black Sea, but that is also critical to the security of the United States,” Sen. Jean Shaheen, DN .H. told NBC News about America’s declining military role in the region.
The US has no ships in the area to recover the wreckage, and the only NATO ally bordering the Black Sea with a navy strong enough to potentially reach the crash site is Turkey, which has tried to remain relatively friendly with Moscow. Its war with Ukraine.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Wednesday that much debris was unlikely to be found anyway. He said the drone had limped into an area where the depth reached 5,000 feet and the US military had ensured that its data banks were wiped.
Russia has blamed the US for the confrontation, denied that its jet came into contact with the drone and accused Washington of provocation by conducting surveillance near Russian airspace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed Moscow’s presence on the Crimean Peninsula – the historic home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and a bedrock of the Kremlin’s ability to project its power across the region – and long-standing meddling in neighboring countries such as Georgia. given priority.
Shahin, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, and others said this week’s drone incident highlighted the need for the US to outline a plan for its approach to protecting the Black Sea. need to.
The drone encounter prompted Shaheen, who visited a NATO airbase in Romania last month, to re-introduce a bill with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, that would require the Biden administration to deepen US economic and military sanctions within 180 days. An interagency strategy will be needed to do this. relations with the countries of the region.
“There’s been a great deal of bipartisan interest in this because — between the war in Ukraine, this incident with the drones, what’s happening with the shipping lanes — it’s very clear how important this region is,” Shahin said. “And most of the countries that border the Black Sea are our allies, and now it is important for us to show how we support our allies.”
The State Department and the National Security Council did not respond to requests for comment.
A weak point in water?
Former national security officials who have operated in the region said the level of US and NATO investment in the Black Sea does not match its strategic importance. He noted that, despite NATO rhetoric, Western activity in the region began to decline after Moscow annexed Crimea.
Glenn Grant, a former British officer who has served as a military instructor and adviser to Ukraine and Bulgaria, said the Black Sea is a particular weak point for NATO’s eastern flank.
“There is no NATO on that side because of the weakness of Bulgaria and Romania and the obstinacy of Turkey,” he said. “Because of that, you don’t have a NATO presence in the Black Sea.”
A NATO official, who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely, stressed that the Black Sea region is of “strategic importance” to the alliance, noting that its members supported the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. and had strengthened the NATO presence in response to a full-scale NATO presence. The invasion of Ukraine last year.
The official said NATO has led more air policing missions outside Romania and Bulgaria, installed more air and missile defense systems in Romania and Turkey, and deployed new battle groups to the region.
Steven Horrell, a former US naval intelligence officer who studies the region for the Washington-based think tank Center for European Policy Analysis, said Turkey – which serves as NATO’s southern bastion and is home to the most powerful forces in the alliance is one of the “must be” central to any strategy regarding the Black Sea.
He said the US must find a way to make it a more reliable partner as Washington also develops close ties with the likes of Romania and Bulgaria.
At least the presidents of Romania and Bulgaria met in Sofia and signed an agreement on Wednesday to boost ties.
“We have to rely on three NATO allies [Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey] And the Black Sea asks to lead,” Horrell said. “It has been challenging for all three of them to come together in one voice, as, for example, the Baltic states have done.”
The foreign ministries of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey did not respond to requests for comment.