The NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s annual session in Bucharest on October 6-9 adopted the Resolution on Stability and Security in the Black Sea Region. The document supports Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, expresses deep concern over “continuous illegal occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia by Russia, and its military build-up,” condemns facts of “violation of fundamental human rights” and attempts of “destabilization and intimidation” of NATO- aspirant countries by Russia as well as neighbors aiming at deepening relationship with the alliance. The resolution calls on Russia to withdraw its armed forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. NATO should apply efforts to restore Georgia’s “territorial integrity.”
The resolution emphasized its support of the 2008 Bucharest NATO summit decision that paves the way for Georgia to join the alliance. The paper calls for increase of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s involvement in NATO activities aimed at “strengthening regional security.” The Assembly also welcomes reform programs in Georgia and Ukraine and “their significant achievements.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said the language of the resolution is extremely provocative and unacceptable. NATO’s military activities near the Russian border have been repeatedly criticized by Moscow, which has accused the alliance of undermining the security balance with its eastward encroachment and military provocations.
Meanwhile, NATO officially launched a new multinational force in Romania on October 9 to counter Russia. The force is initially built around a Romanian brigade of up to 4,000 soldiers, to be supported by troops from nine other NATO countries, and complementing a separate deployment of 900 US troops who are already in place. The plans include additional air and sea assets to give the force greater capabilities. The land component of the multinational force is stationed at a base near the southern Romanian city of Craiova. Aside from Romania, Poland is the biggest troop contributor; Bulgaria, Italy and Portugal will train with the force in Craiova, while Germany is also set to contribute.
The move will seriously unsettle Russia's southern flank. Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey – the Black Sea states - are already NATO members, while Georgia and Ukraine aspire to join with their militaries increasingly integrating with NATO.
Romania maintains intensive military cooperation not only within NATO but also bilaterally with the US from whom it intends to acquire Patriot missile defence systems or F-16 fighter jets. The country is home to the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense (BMD) site in Deveselu, which became operational in August 2016. Being a legitimate target, the BMD site will shape the US military presence in Romania for the long term in an effort to protect the facility. That’s how tensions and arms races are provoked.
In addition to existing NATO Black Sea naval patrols, a maritime presence will include more allied visits to Romanian and Bulgarian ports, training and exercises. Romania has been pushing for bigger NATO naval presence on the Black Sea for more than a year. The UK is deploying fighter aircraft to Romania. Canada is already helping to patrol Romanian air space, and Italian planes are helping patrol over Bulgaria. The NATO air and naval forces are substantial, especially during the exercises such as Sea Shield.
The list of measures taken by the alliance to increase its military potential in the Black Sea region, as well as elsewhere in Europe, can go on. It creates an increasingly murky situation.
The footprint in non-NATO countries is a matter of special concern for Russia. The trouble with the latest NATO PA resolution is that it promotes the idea of Georgia’s membership in the alliance, among other things. The membership of Georgia in NATO is unacceptable for Moscow but the NATO PA resolution ignores this fact. The bloc already has military presence in Georgia. Ukraine hosts US military.
Georgia and Ukraine are used for deployment of NATO forces in the proximity of Russia’s borders. With the elements of infrastructure in place, the forces in the non-NATO states could be easily reinforced.
The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act includes the NATO pledge not to deploy “substantial forces” near Russia but the forces in Romania and Bulgaria are substantial enough to make Russia take appropriate measures in response.
With the forces deployed in Crimea, it has coverage over the whole of the Black Sea with a combination of supersonic anti-ship missiles having a range of 600 km, advanced air-to-surface weapons and surface and subsurface combatants armed with cruise and anti-ship missiles. Additionally, it is strengthening its A2/AD capabilities by the placement in Crimea of its newest surface-to-air missile system, the S-400, next month.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York in September that NATO is currently seeking to revive the Cold War climate instead of building a dialogue with Moscow.
The policy has turned the region into another international flash point along with the South China Sea and the Baltic. There is no dialogue and no international forum where security problems of the region could be addressed. The growing tensions in the Black Sea are actually paid little attention to and don’t top the European security agenda. The NATO PA resolution and the steps to boost the alliance’s military presence provoke a vicious circle of arms buildup extremely difficult to get out from.