NATO HQ: Ukraine to join NATO, build new naval bases in Azov, Black Seas
Rick Rozoff

The U.S. embassy in Ukraine was cited yesterday as confirming that “U.S. Navy Porter and Donald Cook depart[ed] the Black Sea following 17 days of operations alongside NATO Allies and partners: Ukraine, Romania, Georgia, Turkey.” The quote was included to establish, tersely, that two American guided-missile warships, both equipped with Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptor missiles capable of shooting down Russian missiles, had spent weeks in Russia’s backyard drilling for future military action. In fact Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the country’s naval lifeline to the Mediterranean Sea, is based at Sevastopol on the Black Sea.

And that those ships, and a third American vessel, had engaged in exercises with NATO allies – Romania and Turkey – and partners – Georgia and Ukraine, all the Black Sea littoral nations except for Russia and Bulgaria. It wasn’t indicated why NATO member Bulgaria didn’t participate in the exercises conducted to increase interoperability of troops, equipment, standards and training for future warfighting, but that country routinely participates in similar war games. The Black Sea has become NATO’s sea since Bulgaria and Romania joined the military bloc in 2004 and the following two years turned eight bases over to the U.S. and NATO, including three air bases.

On the same day the American embassy in Ukraine reported that “a ceremony was held in Odesa to hand over 20 armored humvees and 84 inflatable boats of various types from the United States to the Naval Forces of the Ukrainian Armed Forces….”

On the same day the NATO website reported on a meeting the preceding day between NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyha at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Afterwards the two held a press conference, excerpts from which will comprise the bulk of what follows.

Stoltenberg prefaced the exchange with these attestations of Ukraine’s importance and loyalty to NATO:

Ukraine is already today one of NATO’s closest and most important partners.

You have provided troops to NATO missions and operations.

Including in Afghanistan and Kosovo, as well as for the NATO Response Force.

We value these contributions, which demonstrate Ukraine’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic security.

That is why Ukraine is now an Enhanced Opportunities Partner for NATO.

This status will further allow us to deepen our cooperation.

He revealed that the two of them had earlier discussed “the security situation in Ukraine and the Black Sea region” – as U.S. anti-ballistic warships were just leaving the Black Sea – then listed what those security concerns were and who the villain of the scenario is:

NATO Allies are united in their condemnation of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and its aggressive actions in eastern Ukraine.

We call on Russia to end its support for militants in eastern Ukraine and withdraw its forces from your territory.

Stoltenberg in the past has regularly referred to Russia’s invasion of both Ukraine and Georgia, both advanced NATO partners on the Black Sea.

NATO is opposing Russia, he went on to state, in the following ways among others:

NATO also continues to provide strong practical support to Ukraine.

This includes more exercises, port visits, and information sharing on the Black Sea region.

Just some days ago, the US Navy destroyer USS Porter trained with Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea.

And Spanish aircraft are currently conducting NATO air policing in the region.

NATO’s support for Ukraine also covers areas such as command and control, countering explosive devices and medical rehabilitation of service members.

Including with a pledge of more than 40 million euros to different Trust Funds.

We also continue to support your reform programme.

I welcome Ukraine’s efforts to implement major reforms, which support its Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

After Stoltenberg and Shmyha addressed the press corps at NATO Headquarters a Ukrainian journalist asked his nation’s prime minister whether the government has plans to upgrade ports at Berdyansk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov for naval purposes. More specifically, he asked about plans “to restore the freedom of navigation through the Kerch Strait” and “what is the plan of Ukrainian government in real terms to create some kind of Ukrainian base of a Navy in Azov Sea?”

The Sea of Azov is only accessible for shipping through the Kerch Strait which connects it to the Black Sea. The status of the Kerch Strait has been a bone of contention between Ukraine and Russia, the two countries bordering the Sea of Azov, for decades, long before the 2014 U.S.-engineered putsch in Kiev. In November of 2018 the Russia coast guard fired on and seized three Ukrainian Navy vessels headed toward the port of Mariupol. That city is in Donetsk, which broke away from the Kiev government in Ukraine after the violent overthrow of the nation’s president, Victor Yanukovych, seven years ago.

It is also the site of the Battle of Mariupol, which occurred from May 6 to June 14 of 2014 and cost the lives of some 45 people on both sides. The fighting culminated in the Kiev government taking control of the city.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal responded to the question concerning new naval bases as follows (as recorded in the transcript)

“Ukraine will start building two naval bases, one in the Black Sea one, in the Azov Sea, we will do it as part of our budget, which was allocated for this purposes. 5.93 from GDP – so far the biggest allocations for Defence and Security, in the last years. And this will be done as part of our cooperation with Britain, with UK, that are also helping us financially so this programme is being launched.”

The same journalist also asked NATO’s Stoltenberg, “what actions now [will?] NATO undertake to prevent Russian efforts to overturn the entire Black Sea area…into their exclusive area of influence and, in particular, what is the NATO reaction on a double increase of Russian military presence in occupied Crimea?”

The NATO chieftain replied in a manner that suggests he anticipated the question:

“I think we have to understand that the Black Sea is of strategic importance for NATO and the NATO allies, our littoral states, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania, and then we have two close and highly valued partners in the region; Ukraine and Georgia. At the same time, we have seen a significant Russian buildup in the Black Sea, not least with the illegal annexation of Crimea, and also with more naval presence in the year.

“NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea region with more naval presence, just over the last few weeks we had actually three US naval ships deployed in the Black Sea, and also some of them exercising and training with the Ukrainian Navy.

“We have more air policing presence in the air, and also on land with more NATO troops, training, and being active in the region. So, NATO has increased its military presence in the Black Sea region, because we recognise the great strategic importance of this region for all NATO allies but also of course for our close partner, Ukraine.

“We have a Romanian led Multinational Brigade, based in Craiova, in Romania. And we are also stepping up our support for our partners, Ukraine and the Georgia, including with some support, help to their different maritime forces, including the coast guards and the last time I visited the Ukraine, we went to Odessa, we saw the Naval Academy in Odessa where actually NATO provides support to Ukraine by helping to train personnel for their Navy.”

Another journalist asked Stoltenberg when Ukraine would join NATO, as regarding Black Sea neighbor Georgia “there were a number of signals that Georgia is very close to getting a membership action plan”? NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP) is the final stage before full membership.

At the 2008 NATO summit in fellow Black Sea nation Romania, the alliance pledged “these countries (Ukraine and Georgia] will become members of NATO.” There are two major impediments to joining NATO: unresolved territorial conflicts and the presence of foreign (that is, non-NATO) troops in the country. Four months after NATO declared Georgia to be a future member Georgia decided to resolve both those issues at one time by invading breakaway South Ossetia, with Abkhazia to follow, where Russian peacekeepers were stationed. The two regions would be subdued and incorporated; the Russian troops would be evicted; Georgia would be ready for NATO membership.

After the 2008 NATO summit Senators Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama, all three then presidential candidates. issued official statements supporting NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine.

Stoltenberg’s response to the journalist’s query confirms this:

“NATO’s door remains open. We have in a very successful way, step by step, invited new countries to join the Alliance and just over the last couple of years. NATO has been enlarged with Montenegro, and North Macedonia and NATO made a decision, back in 2008, about the membership of Ukraine.

“We stand by that decision and all subsequent decisions following that Summit. I was actually present at that Summit back in 2008, and as I said, NATO has reiterated the decision.”

A third journalist asked Stoltenberg whether it wasn’t a “necessity to revise and renew the NATO enlargement policy which already became a subject of Russian propaganda?” and he said this in response:

“At the beginning of the 1990s we were 16 members, now we are 30 members and we added two members just over the last few years. So the NATO enlargement policy has been a great success simply because it has invited more and more countries of millions of people, into the family, into our collective defence institutions and the cooperation we have in NATO. And as I said, NATO’s door remains open, and we work with countries like Ukraine.

“Ukraine is recognised as a candidate for NATO membership. NATO allies help and support Ukrainian efforts to join the Alliance.”

The Ukrainian prime minister also responded to the question:

“I would like to add also with my answer. Well first of all, when we talk about the future the perspective and the aspirations of Ukraine, of course the NATO membership for Ukraine is a key priority, it is reflected in our Constitution. And we discussed it with the Secretary General, and we are absolutely ready.

“And we are indeed doing our homework very well, we have passed a number of legislations ,we are reforming our armed forces, we are moving towards NATO standards, we are conducting joint manoeuvres and exercises and work together in the peacekeeping operations in the name of the NATO contingent. We have got quite a number of achievements, which now give us hope that we can implement our homework quite quickly. And, as Secretary General stated today, the achievement of the standards of NATO in the sector of security and defence of Ukraine will indeed be a precondition leading us to the NATO membership.

“Indeed, our short term strategy at the moment is indeed the aspiration to receive the MAP, and of course, we want to catch up with Georgia and receive the MAP, but we are working actively over this and we feel that our meeting today is quite a positive and symbolic signal, which gives us positive charge, and positive hope.”

Stoltenberg then launched into a lengthy diatribe against Russia, condemning it for several reasons, none of them related to the security of Ukraine. In his words

security services tried to quell the clear and strong voice for democracy, the freedom of peaceful demonstration, the freedom of free speech and fundamental democratic rights.

violent suppression and the arbitrary detention of thousands of peaceful protestors and journalists across Russia.

the politically motivated arrest and detention of Alexey Navalny.

targeting the victim of an attempted killing, assassination using a banned chemical agent to try to take his life, while the attackers remain at large.

He completed his tirade with:

“NATO has also clearly condemned the attempt to take the life of Alexei Navalny by using a chemical agent, which is a clear violation of the ban on all chemical weapons. So we continue to call on Russia to bring those responsible to justice and fully cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons on an impartial investigation.”

On the military-security front he castigated Russia for the following alleged threats to regional and world peace:

we have seen a significant Russian military buildup, over the last years.

we have seen aggressive military actions by Russia against Georgia, against Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea.

we have seen a build up all the way from the Barents Sea, The Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, down to the Mediterranean.

He neglected to point out that Russia borders the Baltic, Barents and Black Seas and had done for centuries before NATO existed.

 F-16C Fighting Falcons at Campia Turzii, Romania 2019

In keeping with the standard NATO line that the targeted country threatens the military adversary who has advanced to his borders by in any manner preparing to defend itself, Stoltenberg provided this tidy “if you want peace, prepare for war” species of sophism to round off his blanket condemnation of Russia, the only non-NATO member and partner in the Black Sea:

“It has also triggered, the largest and strongest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence since the end of the Cold War, with the deployment of battle groups in eastern part of the Alliance in the Baltic countries, and in Poland, increased presence also in the Black Sea region, high readiness of armed forces, and also of the years of reducing defence spending, all NATO allies are now investing more in defence.”

If you want war, prepare for war.