US-Russia tension rises in Black Sea and Mediterranean
The Russian Foreign Ministry warned on June 10 that the country would “respond” to the arrival of the U.S. Navy’s missile guided destroyer USS Porter to the Black Sea “with measures,” but did not give details.
The destroyer passed through the Turkish straits on June 6 northbound into the Black Sea on a “routine deployment.” The statement is the latest indication of the rising tension between Russia and NATO, whose leading force is the United States. And it is not particular to the Black Sea, which is one of the main stages of the Ukraine-Russia crisis theater that has been dominated by Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The tension in the Black Sea is actually part of bigger problems in the Mediterranean Sea because of the Syrian civil war.
On June 9, it was reported that a second U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower, would be deployed to the Mediterranean Sea to replace the already deployed USS Truman of the 6th Fleet there, but both aircraft carrier groups will be there throughout the month of June. The Wall Street Journal quoted a U.S. official as saying: “It provides some needed presence in the Mediterranean to check the Russians. The unpredictability of what we did with Truman kind of makes them think twice.”
What Truman did was hit the positions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) around Aleppo in Syria with jets and guided missiles from the sea for the first time on June 3. So far, American planes have generally used the Turkish air base of İncirlik to hit ISIL in Syria. The next day on June 4, it was reported that a Tu-142 naval reconnaissance plane was observed in the Syrian and Mediterranean skies for the first time in the Syrian theater.
Despite the fact that both the U.S. and Russia are fighting ISIL in Syria, the tension between the two is rising as the ground forces they support (Russia’s being the regime forces of Bashar al-Assad) get closer to each other around cities like Aleppo and Raqqa, the latter being the headquarters of ISIL.
Russia has a naval task force (of at least 13 warships) with their base in Syria’s Tartus port, an air force unit based in Latakia and special forces in Syria. In addition to that, Russia recently announced that the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov would soon be deployed to the Mediterranean.
The defense ministers of Russia, Syria and Iran had a meeting in Tehran on June 10, reiterating their continued support for the al-Assad regime.
The military escalation in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, which means the northern and southern shores of Turkey, is due to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and Syria. The situation was inflamed by the downing of a Russian jet by a Turkish jet in November 2015 for violating the Syria-Turkey border. The recent escalation and mutual warnings have come at a time when NATO has been conducting its biggest military exercise, Anaconda, in Poland since June 6 – which coincides with the USS Porter’s entry to the Black Sea.
The exercise (in which the Turkish Armed Forces is also participating) alarmed Russia, which deployed extra troops near the Polish border. Poland is going to station missiles for the NATO-operated U.S. missile shield project within the next two years. Romania, which also has a Black Sea coast, has already deployed missiles, with the related early-warning radar site stationed in Turkey.
And all this is taking place as NATO is heading for a summit in Warsaw on July 8-9 during which relations with Russia will be a hot item on the agenda, along with the struggle against terrorism as triggered by the civil wars in Syria and Iraq. Those developments have put Turkey in a more delicate situation as a NATO country bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran and conducting two anti-terror fights at the same time against both ISIL and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).