At the opportunity of the Sea Breeze naval exercise, vice-admiral James Foggo, commanding officer of the USA Sixth Fleet, declared on September 2 that the USA will tend to maintain a presence as permanent as possible in the Black Sea, which the US naval magazine Navy Times calls, nicely enough, “to wave its flag at Russia’s front door”.
It is actually a provocation.
The USA have been running yearly joint maneuvers with the Ukraine for years, without so far considering a permanent presence. Last year they have been reminded the existence of the Montreux Convention. And on the other hand they realised the vulnerability of their navy, first thanks to the Russian Sukhoï 24 that really blinded, desarmed and paralysed the Donald Cook in the very Black Sea (april 2014), and then thanks to the French attack submarine Saphir which virtually (during an exercise) destroyed half of the naval group of the Theodore Roosevelt, included that aircraft carrier just recently modernised, in Florida (february 2015); without any budgetary constraint, the USA do equip their armed forces with their best technology, but their technology is not the most advanced. These two warnings, therefore, could have incited them to a lower profile on global seas, but it seems that tactical superiority (the ability to win a confrontation) doesn’t interest them as much as the assertion of their omnipresence, at sea as well as on land where, for example, they violate every day the Minsk agreements prohibiting the presence of foreign troops in ex-Ukraine (in Malorussia as well as in Novorussia).
Therefore, the intention of a permanent US presence in the Black Sea must be considered as a new and determined policy. The USA may have not signed the Montreux Convention, but they accept it while crossing the Straits, since it was conceived, by the Black Sea bordering countries, as the condition for the opening of this sea to non-bordering countries who don’t have anything do do there since it is a locked sea and not a passing way like the Malacca strait or the English Channel. They are not totally right when pretending that these are international waters where transit is free, since they are multinational waters opened to non-bordering states under certain conditions. The Black Sea is not a navigation corridor, even if the Montreux Convention makes a favour to commercial fleets, that only underlines the specific regime of military vessels, which are precisely the ones that the USA, not geographically prone to Bulgaro-Romanian commerce, intend to deploy permanently… and if the bordering countries were to offer them an exception to the Convention, the next US step would, with no doubt, be the Azov sea, “international” since it is bordered by Russia and the ex-Ukrainian Malorussia (and now Novorussia too).
Indeed the USA are putting their allies in a difficult position, on one hand Turkey which is obliged, by the Convention, to control the straits (otherwise they would not have been left to Turkey), and on the other hand France which is obliged, by the same Convention, to warn all bordering countries in case a non-bordering power infringes the text, that is, either lets a military vessel for more than 21 days, or introduces (what Turkey is supposed to prevent) a total tonnage above 30000 tonnes.
Since the USA, who already violated this rule last year, are now announcing their intention of a permanent installation, although they know that their fleet is vulnerable and that this announcement puts their allies in a difficult position, it can only be a provocation, like all the ones seen for already a year and a half in Europe, as for example the multiplication of aerial missions likely to provoke incidents.
If the systematic disregard of the Montreux Convention by the USA was to become permanent, and if the partners of Russia were to refuse to play their role in the application of the Convention, it would be difficult not to see there a direct provocation and, in the current state of declared war, an invitation to Russia to adopt the Just Cause solution applied by the USA to the Panama Canal in 1989.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Oceania Saker.