There are some U.S. officials who would like to kick off the shooting part of the U.S.-Russia war in the Black Sea. From Daniel Larison at antiwar.com:
Some US allies and Russia hawks in Washington are now agitating for the US and other members of NATO to use their naval forces break the Russian blockade of Ukraine. Retired Adm. James Stavridis is one of the latest advocates of this reckless idea, and he tries to sell it as an updated version of the US role in the Tanker War during the war between Iran and Iraq. The comparison is not a promising one. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is a more capable force than Iran’s navy was, Russia has repeatedly warned against outside interference in the war, and the Tanker War did not involve the possibility of setting off a war between NATO and a nuclear-armed major power.
Putting US and allied ships in harm’s way as escorts would be a serious mistake, not least because it runs significant risks of escalation if the escorting ships clash with Russian forces. Russia has a strong incentive to keep the blockade intact and they are unlikely to allow Western navies to break it without putting up serious resistance. Any proposal to break the blockade is an implicit call for committing acts of war against Russian forces with all the potentially disastrous consequences that come with it. Trying to break the blockade would be courting open war with Russia, which makes no more sense today than it did three months ago when the invasion began.
Like virtually everything the Biden administration does, its policy towards Russia is marked by contradiction, hypocrisy, and assertions of power it can’t or won’t back up. From Doug Bandow at antiwar.com:
Biden administration diplomats are wandering Europe warning about a potential invasion of Ukraine. It makes one wonder if the Biden crowd – it is unclear who, if anyone, is in charge of the administration these days – is hoping for a fight over Ukraine. Perhaps “a splendid little war,” as the Spanish-American War was called, would provide a patriotic bump in public approval.
Washington cites an apparently ominous Russian military buildup near Ukraine. This sounds like a repeat of Russian maneuvers in the Spring, which caused enormous wailing and gnashing of teeth within the Beltway but came to nothing. However, based on information the administration refuses to share with the American people – apparently reports indicating deployments of elite units at night – US officials are worried about potential unspecified military action. Ukraine first dismissed the claim but flip-flopped a few days ago without explanation. Presumably the administration shared with Kyiv whatever it continues to withhold from its own public.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken opined that the US didn’t “have clarity over Moscow’s intentions,” even as his subordinates were inflaming the war scare. He added: “Our concern is that Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook in 2014, when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory and did so claiming falsely that it was provoked.” Alas, this mysterious assessment communicates little. Then Moscow seized Crimea, historically Russian and location of Sevastopol naval base, and supported ethnic-Russian separatists in the Donbass region. What would it mean to “rehash” these events?
The Russians are probably not bluffing. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:
In the days after the June 23 incident between the UK Royal Navy’s HMS Defender and a Russian patrol vessel and military aircraft near Crimea which resulted in warning shots fired from the Russian side, Putin asserted that a US reconnaissance plane had been nearby monitoring the dangerous close-call incident as it unfolded below. Putin had cast the whole showdown as a “provocation” in which the US aircraft was present monitor Russia’s response to the UK vessel. Moscow’s position is that the UK vessel had ventured a full three kilometers into Russian territorial waters, which was met with a Su-24M dropping bombs in the Defender’s path along with the Russian patrol ship firing warning shots.
The latest charge on Sunday, however, has gone further, with Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov accusing Washington and the UK of essentially engineering the dangerously close military encounter in order to probe and test Russia’s defense of its borders.
“I think our intelligence certainly knows who made a decision there [in the situation with the British destroyer]. But certainly I think such operations are basically planned by senior partners from overseas,” Peskov was cited in TASS as saying.
Given Putin’s prior words pointing the finger directly at Washington during his annual televised Q&A last month, this latest Kremlin statement is also no doubt a clear reference to the US (in terms of the provocative reference to “who made the decision here”). Presidential spokesman Peskov elaborated further in his Sunday statements that “in this case the destroyer was just a tool of provocation.”
These latest statements came with a warning, following the earlier summoning of the British ambassador and military attaché in Moscow quickly after the event. Peskov said Russia will continue to “respond harshly” to any future provocations in a similar way. This after UK officials expressed “surprise” at how rapidly the sea encounter devolved in a ‘live fire’ incident.
The NATO effort to encircle Russia continues, hoary old injunctions about not poking rattlesnakes notwithstanding, and modern wisdom about not messing with countries that can the blow the world to smithereens notwithstanding. From Pepe Escobar at The Asia Times via zerohedge.com:
US seeks to revamp post-WWI concept of Baltic-Black Sea Intermarium as a Cold War 2.0 iron wall against Russia…
Welcome to the latest NATO show: Sea Breeze starts today and goes all the way to July 23. The co-hosts are the US Sixth Fleet and the Ukrainian Navy. The main protagonist is Standing NATO Maritime Group 2.
The show, in NATOspeak, is just an innocent display of “strenghtening deterrence and defense”. NATO spin tells us the exercise is “growing in popularity” and now features more than 30 nations “from six continents” deploying 5,000 troops, 32 ships, 40 aircraft and “18 special operations and dive teams”. All committed to implement and improve that magical NATO concept: “interoperability”.
Now let’s clear the fog and get to the heart of the matter. NATO is projecting the impression that it’s taking over selected stretches of the Black Sea in the name of “peace”. NATO’s supreme articles of faith, reiterated in its latest summit, are “Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea” and “support for Ukraine sovereignty”.
So for NATO, Russia is an enemy of “peace”. Everything else is hybrid war fog.
NATO not only “does not and will not recognize Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea” but also denounces its “temporary occupation”. This script, redacted in Washington, is recited by Kiev and virtually the whole EU.
NATO bills itself as committed to “transatlantic unity”. Geography tells us the Black Sea has not been annexed to the Atlantic. But that’s no impediment for NATO’s goodwill – which the record shows turned Libya, in northern Africa, into a wasteland run by militias. As for the intersection of Central and South Asia, NATO’s collective behind was unceremoniously kicked by a bunch of ragged Pashtuns with counterfeit Kalashnikovs.
The “West” was not even mentioned by name. Only indirectly, or via a delightful metaphor, Kipling’s Jungle Book. Foreign policy was addressed only at the end, almost as an afterthought.
For the best part of an hour and a half, Putin concentrated on domestic issues, detailing a series of policies that amount to the Russian state helping those in need – low income families, children, single mothers, young professionals, the underprivileged – with, for instance, free health checks all the way to the possibility of an universal income in the near future.
Of course he would also need to address the current, highly volatile state of international relations. The concise manner he chose to do it, counter-acting the prevailing Russophobia in the Atlanticist sphere, was quite striking.
First, the essentials. Russia’s policy “is to ensure peace and security for the well-being of our citizens and for the stable development of our country.”
Yet if “someone does not want to…engage in dialogue, but chooses an egoistic and arrogant tone, Russia will always find a way to stand up for its position.”
He singled out “the practice of politically motivated, illegal economic sanctions” to connect it to “something much more dangerous”, and actually rendered invisible in the Western narrative: “the recent attempt to organize a coup d’etat in Belarus and the assassination of that country’s president.” Putin made sure to stress, “all boundaries have been crossed”.
The plot to kill Lukashenko was unveiled by Russian and Belarusian intel – which detained several actors backed, who else, US intel. The US State Department predictably denied any involvement.
Putin: “It is worth pointing to the confessions of the detained participants in the conspiracy that a blockade of Minsk was being prepared, including its city infrastructure and communications, the complete shutdown of the entire power grid of the Belarusian capital. This, incidentally means preparations for a massive cyber-attack.”
Putin’s red lines should be taken much more seriously than Obama’s were. From Finian Cunningham at strategic-culture.org:
The British are being told that they cannot just sail their warships into the Black Sea and rattle their sabers in Russia’s face. Putin is telling the Brits and anyone else not to even think about getting that close.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a stern warning to countries trying to provoke military tensions, saying that his nation is drawing up red lines for defense.
Putin delivered the sharp remarks during his annual state-of-the-nation address to lawmakers from both chambers of the Russian parliament. The stark warning comes amid spiraling tensions over Ukraine between Western supporters of the Kiev regime and Russia.
Specifically, days before Putin’s set-piece speech, British media reported that Britain’s Royal Navy is planning to deploy two warships to the Black Sea: a Type-45 destroyer armed with anti-aircraft missiles; and a frigate for hunting submarines. A British ministry of defense spokesman is quoted as saying the move was a sign of “unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity” in the face of alleged Russian aggression.
The British deployment is planned to take place in the coming weeks. The two warships will transit Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait to enter the Black Sea. International shipping is permitted under the Montreux Convention. However, the British plan seems far from an innocent passage, and a rather more calculated provocation.
One thing can certainly be said about the Biden administration’s foreign policy—it’s not consistent. From Finian Cunningham at strategic-culture.org:
Washington must surely know that its escalations will be met with equal force from Russia and China, Finian Cunningham writes.
President Joe Biden wasn’t expecting Russia’s rapid slap back. He assumed, wrongly, that he could hit Moscow with a new round of sanctions (based on slanderous claims) and look as if he were chewing gum and acting the hard man.
Then slap. Russian responded immediately and firmly. Ten U.S. diplomats are to be expelled in a reciprocal response to Biden’s executive order last week to expel Russian diplomats.
Laughably, the Biden administration was aghast at the Russian sanctions. A State Department spokesman decried the Russian move as an “escalation” – unlike the American sanctions which, he said, were “proportionate”.
Proportionate to what? Well, to unfounded claims by the Biden administration that Russia had interfered in the 2020 presidential election, had launched cyberattacks on government and private companies, and was threatening Ukraine with aggression. But what if all these claims are baseless, which they are?
The US government is in the grips of a delusion that it can operate in and control other countries’ waters in far-flung corners of the globe: the Baltic Sea, the South China Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Black Sea. From Marin Sieff at strategic-culture.org:
Whom the gods would destroy, Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, they first make mad. What would Nietzsche make of the current, truly mad US and NATO obsession with charging into the Black Sea? It is a useful thought to ponder.
The Black Sea was far outside NATO’s traditional theater of operations for most of the Alliance’s history. However, Brussels and Washington have been piling up their military assets and visibility in the region like bees at a honey pot – or like a rogue herd of elephants charging off the edge of a cliff.
Yet NATO’s “In Your Face” presence in the Black Sea protects no one. On the contrary, it puts America’s allies in the region at grave risk by escalating tensions and increasing the danger that full scale war could break out by deliberately manufactured incident (Just think the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964) and or through a random error or clash that escalates out of control.
The US/NATO forward presence in the Black Sea is strategic madness. And it replicates parallel incendiary US exercises in fake macho stupidity against Beijing in the South China Sea: A region from which the Chinese people suffered invasion and societal collapse on a genocidal scale following defeats by Britain and France in the First Opium War (1839-42) and by Imperial Japan in its terrible invasion of summer 1937.
Washington seems equally intent on opening up a third front against Iran with its parallel forward policy in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
Three simultaneous wars against three major nations, two of which are the largest, most populous in the world and formidably nuclear armed? US grand strategy –insofar as there is one – seems to have national suicide as its only goal.
This is especially bizarre in the Black Sea: Washington’s strongest and most important ally in the region, Turkey is now on the brink of being expelled from NATO because of the Turkish government’s determination to buy Russia’s excellent S-400 air defense system, the best of its kind in the world.
The notion of the US and the rest of its alliance intervening in the Black Sea isn’t dismissed out of hand as farfetched, but the notion of Russia steaming into, say, the Great Lakes is inconceivable. Why? From Pepe Escobar at atimes.com:
Crimea is essential to Russia strategically and economically, but speculation over Ankara helping to boost the US presence in the Black Sea is far-fetched given Turkey’s energy deals with Moscow
The frigate Admiral Essen from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet returns to the permanent naval base in Sevastopol, Crimea. It was part of Russia’s Mediterranean taskforce from August 2018, spending about 300 days at sea. Photo: AFP/ Alexey Malgavko / Sputnik
A power struggle over the Black Sea between Russia and the US plus NATO has the potential to develop as a seminal plot of the 21st century New Great Game – alongside the current jostling for re-positioning in the Eastern Mediterranean.
By now it’s established the US and NATO are stepping up military pressure from Poland to Romania and Bulgaria all the way to Ukraine and east of the Black Sea, which seems, at least for the moment, relatively peaceful, just as Crimea’s return to Russia starts to be regarded, in realpolitik terms, as a fait accompli.
After a recent series of conversations with top analysts from Istanbul to Moscow, it’s possible to identify the main trends ahead.
Just as independent Turkish analysts like Professor Hasan Unal are alarmed at Ankara’s isolation in the Eastern Mediterranean energy sphere by an alliance of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, Washington’s military buildup in both Romania and Bulgaria is also identified as posing a threat to Turkey.
Russia can take care of itself, and will do so if threatened. From M. K. Bhadadrakumar at indianpunchline.com:
The Russian President Vladimir Putin’s address to an expanded meeting of the Defence Ministry Board in Moscow on December 18 stands out as a tour d’horizon of the global strategic balance. The speech must be seen against the backdrop of the free fall in US-Russia relations, build-up of NATO infrastructure on Russia’s western borders and, in particular, the Trump administration’s statements about the US withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987.
Broadly, Putin’s message is in three directions:
The modernization of Russian armed forces has been most successful and the combat readiness of Russian military is at an all-time high level;
Russia has developed new hypersonic weapons of immense destructive power, which are going into serial production for deployment with the strategic nuclear forces to which the US simply has no answer;
Russia is determined to ensure that any US attempts to tilt the strategic balance in its favor will be effectively countered.
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