Ukraine’s Proposal to Have NATO Warships in Azov Sea Finds Receptive Audience in US

US Congressman gets his inland seas and centuries confused

The Ukraine’s goal has always been to internationalize the situation in the Azov Sea. President Poroshenko’s recent call for other countries’ involvement was immediately rejected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel but it found a receptive audience in the US. On Nov.30, the US Senate unanimously approved a non-binding resolution condemning what it calls “Russia’s recent attack on Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait”. The document says nothing about the Ukrainian vessels violating Russia’s territorial waters and not responding to multiple warnings by its Coast Guard. No doubt the US Coast Guard would not hesitate to prevent a foreign vessel from crossing America’s sea borders.

Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a co-author of the bill and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is "testing the West." In his interview with CNN, he said “I would love to see a multinational freedom of navigation operations into the Kerch Strait - into the Sea of Azov. We need to have a presence there. We need to probably do more military exercises.” The US FY2018 defense policy bill authorized the administration to provide Ukraine with air and coastal defense systems as well as littoral-zone and coastal defense ships.

Hardly can anything be more provocative than the idea of international drills in the area. The Azov Sea is too shallow for warships to operate. The only vessel to do it is the US littoral combat ship (LCS) but its lacks firepower. The vessel is known to have too many flaws It is one of the projects to gobble up much money with little efficiency produced in return. Anyway, it cannot stay in the Black Sea for more than 21 days in accordance with the 1936 Montreux Convention.

The 2003 Agreement between the Russian Federation and the Ukraine on cooperation in the use of the sea of Azov and the Strait of Kerch states the Sea of Azov and the Strait of Kerch are the internal waters of Russia and Ukraine and specifies no precise borders. A naval vessel can cross the Kerch Strait to enter the Azov Sea only for a port call upon an invitation of one side and with the consent of the other. No military exercises are possible without Moscow’s approval. It’s not about taking measures to prevent other countries from coming to the Azov Sea, but rather making them comply with the international agreement in force.

The last thing the Black Sea region needs is another provocative exercise that could spark a fire there at any moment. Complying with the Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA) is of crucial importance. It already prevented an armed conflict that was very likely during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The adoption of the resolution is part of a bigger picture. Just a few days ago the bill dubbed Stopping Russia Nuclear Aggression Act was introduced in Congress to endanger the future of arms control because it contains provisions unacceptable for Russia. The authors know well that signed into law it would kill any hope for maintaining restrictions on arms race. True, the US GDP is much larger but Russia’s defense programs are more efficient. Moscow gets a bigger bang for its buck. Unlike the US, Russia is not shouldering the heavy burden of the national debt exceeding the national gross domestic product.

One bill under consideration is aimed at erosion of arms control that has been considered to be the pillar of the country’s national security. The other is fraught with provoking the US Navy into a conflict that has no whatsoever relation to the country’s interests and would take place in the area situated far away from the continental United States. US lawmakers introduce one draft law after another to bring closer a conflict with the country that Henry Kissinger, a foreign policy veteran, views as «an essential element of any new global equilibrium». Hopefully, the members of US Congress will make a thorough assessment of consequences before they vote. 

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