NATO boosts Black Sea presence amid Ukraine crisis

NATO boosts Black Sea presence amid Ukraine crisis

NATO has visibly increased its presence and military activities in the Black Sea in a bid to display deterrence toward Russia, in the wake of the ongoing Ukraine crisis and after a shift in Turkey’s strict implementation of the Montreux Convention that regulates the passage of non-literal countries’ military vessels from the straits.

A naval military drill taking place in the Black Sea with the participation of four NATO warships (two Italian, one Turkish and one British) is the most recent indication of the alliance’s strategy to show more of its deterrence in the region as a reaction to Russia’s aggressive policies on Ukraine that caused the annexation of Crimea. As Russia’s challenge against Euro-Atlantic alliance will dominate the agenda of NATO’s summit that will take place in Wales on Sep. 4-5, the alliance’s military preparedness in the Baltics, the Black Sea and Eastern Europe is considered to have great importance.   

As part of NATO’s new strategy, more NATO countries have deployed either warships or surveillance vessels to the Black Sea since January, but without violating the 1936-dated Montreux Convention. The convention limits the duration of the stay and the sizes of the military vessels’ belonging to non-literal countries in the Black Sea.

Turkey’s three conditions

Turkey’s general policy is to keep NATO away from the Black Sea in order not to hurt the fragile balance in the region with Russia. But its strict implementation of the convention during Russia’s offensive against Georgia caused troubles within NATO and between Ankara and Washington. In order not to repeat the same scenario, Turkey has now softened its strict policy toward NATO presence in the Black Sea, but issued three important conditions:

-Full compliance: All NATO countries wishing to take part in activities in the Black Sea should fully comply with the Montreux Convention. The presence and activities of NATO, to this end, should be formulated in a way not to violate the convention.

-Unprovocative: The presence and NATO activities should be carried out in an unprovocative manner. That means the activities should not be in a way that may provoke Russia and bring fresh tension. The activities should rather be held in the Western and Southern parts of the Black Sea, instead of the northern parts.

-Indefinite: NATO’s presence and activities should not be indefinite and open ended; therefore, its mandates should be well-framed and limited.

Reassurances to Bulgaria, Romania

There are important reasons for Turkey to calibrate its Black Sea policy:

The first is the expansion of NATO to the Black Sea region. With the participation of Bulgaria and Romania in NATO, as well as the establishment of institutional partnership relations with Georgia, the political environment of the Black Sea has drastically changed and that also caused some amendments in Turkey’s strict Black Sea policy.

Secondly, Russia’s offensives on Georgia and Ukraine in the last five years that brought changes to the map in Crimea, Abkhazia and South Ossetia also have impacts on Turkey’s change in its policy. With NATO taking security measures against Russia in the Baltic Sea, in eastern Europe, Turkey’s resistance to keep its alliance from the Black Sea would not be right. Therefore, while addressing NATO’s demands, it introduced its own conditions to keep its ties with Russia unharmed.

However, it did not stop Russia’s public criticisms at Turkey, as it argued the Motreux Convention was violated because of U.S. vessels that exceeded their stay in the Black Sea. Despite these developments, Turkey believes that dialogue channels between Russia and NATO should continue to be open and imposing sanctions would not be productive.

One other reason is NATO’s task of providing reassurance to member countries when they believe they are in need. As Turkey is now enjoying Patriot batteries from three allies after it called on NATO to provide an anti-ballistic missile system in the face of a threat from Syria, it was not possible for Ankara to object Bulgaria and Romania’s call to NATO in the wake of Russia’s move in Crimea.