U.S. and NATO ships are focused on conducting freedom of navigation operations in Europe to push back against a Russia that is increasingly harassing commercial shipping and introducing new anti-access weapons into the theater, according to Admiral James Foggo, the head of U.S. naval forces in Europe, the U.S. Naval Institute’s News reported.
“The illegal annexation of Crimea has given the Russian Federation an opportunity to establish more anti-access and area-denial capabilities (in the Black Sea). So S-300, S-400 Bastion weapon systems, anti-ship cruise missiles. They’re pouring more into Kaliningrad and the Baltics, and they’re establishing more robust A2/AD capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Foggo said.
The Russian Federation has been aggressive in the Sea of Azov. After building a bridge over the Kerch Strait to connect Russia and Crimea, the Russians have been seeking to keep Ukrainian ships out of the strait and the Sea of Azov on the other side, even though under the international maritime law the Sea of Azov is controlled by both Russia and Ukraine.
“Along with the bridge goes the entry point to the Sea of Azov. If you’re keeping up with this lately, there’s been some irresponsible activity in the Sea of Azov in the last couple of months, the Ukrainians are not happy about that. The Russians have delayed shipping, held them at sea, unable to enter port, any port, unable to go to sea. This is costing the Ukraine millions of dollars a year and it’s an unfair practice,” Foggo said Friday morning while speaking at an Atlantic Council event.
The admiral said NATO forces would not look to patrol the Sea of Azov, as they have no claim to it, but he said the anti-access practices there make their patrols of the adjoining Black Sea all the more important. The U.S. Navy spends 125 days at sea there, the maximum allowed under maritime law for a nation that does not border the sea, and NATO forces also spent 125 days patrolling the Black Sea.
“This is reassurance for our friends to the east, and we will continue to operate there because the model, the protocol of trying to block the Sea of Azov, will not stand in the Black Sea, and with our friends – the Bulgarians, the Romanians, Georgians, Ukrainians and the Turks – we will continue as NATO to operate,” Foggo said.
As we reported earlier, Russian activity in the Sea of Azov increased over the last three months. Russians do not allow the trade vessels heading to and emerging from the Ukrainian ports to freely pass through the Kerch Strait.
In this regard, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko commissioned the Minister of Defense, the Chief of the General Staff and the Commandment of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to take measures to stop Russian provocations in relation to blocking the entry of vessels into Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea. The Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine developed a set of measures in response to Russia's actions. The set of measures includes the limit of passenger traffic with Russia.
Ukraine also advocates the imposition of sanctions against Russian Black Sea ports due to the blockade of the Sea of Azov.
Rikard Jozwiak earlier reported that the MEPs will consider the situation in the Sea of Azov at the plenary session of the European Parliament on October 23.