NATO's Ex-Commander in Europe: Russia Risks War with Alliance in the Black Sea
Russia's interception of ships in international waters in the Black Sea and its attempts to impose economic control on Ukraine could ignite a direct conflict with NATO, warns the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO's Joint Armed Forces in Europe, according to a report by POLITICO.
James Stavridis, a former US admiral who led the alliance forces from 2009 to 2013, stated that the recent escalation at sea, including Russian troops landing on a Turkish cargo ship and warning shots fired at a Russian Navy freighter on Sunday, could prompt Ukraine's partners within NATO to intervene to prevent the country's economy from being dismantled.
"Russia's actions in the international waters of the Black Sea present a real risk of escalating to maritime warfare between NATO and the Russian Federation," Stavridis cautioned.
"NATO is not just going to arm and fund Ukraine and watch Russia choke their economy with an illegal blockade", he added.
Recently, Russia's Ministry of Defence confirmed that it had fired combat warning shots at the cargo ship Şükrü Okan, flying the flag of Palau, before boarding it. Ukraine's Foreign Minister identified it as Turkish.
This forced and unlawful "inspection" took place in the southwestern part of the Black Sea near the coast of Turkey, a key member of NATO.
Admiral Stavridis criticized Russia's tactics as equivalent to "state-sponsored piracy" as the Kremlin is exerting more effort to undermine trade between Ukraine and the rest of Europe.
He also argued that support from NATO members bordering the Black Sea, namely Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, would mean that the "Russian Black Sea Fleet would be outgunned militarily."
Tensions in the Black Sea have escalated sharply after Russia unilaterally withdrew from an agreement with the United Nations and Turkey in July regarding shipments of Ukrainian grain. Russia warned that vessels heading to Ukrainian ports could be seen as military targets.
In response, Ukraine demonstrated its readiness to target Russia's energy exports by attacking a tanker with a maritime drone and declared waters around Russian Black Sea ports a "zone of military risk" from August 23.
NATO's Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, accused Russia of "dangerous and escalator actions in the Black Sea", partly in connection with Russia's bombardment of Ukrainian ports.
NATO added that it is "enhancing surveillance and reconnaissance in the Black Sea region, including through the use of maritime patrol aircraft and drones."
In turn, Turkey called on Russia to rejoin the grain agreement, and its National Security Council stated that tensions in the Black Sea are "not beneficial to anyone."