U.S. could tie down Russia's Black Sea Fleet

The United States could send its warships to help Georgia. Yesterday the Russian General Staff confirmed this news: according to its sources, American naval forces will enter the Black Sea by the end of August. If this happens, Russia's Black Sea Fleet will be tied down, Georgia finds itself protected by U.S. ship air defenses, and all of the North Caucasus will come within the range of U.S. naval missiles.

Talks on the passage of warships through the Bosporus and Dardanelles between Ankara, which controls the straits, and Washington have been going on for at least a week now. On the one hand, the Turkish leaders are angry with the U.S. for supporting Kurdish separatists. On the other, Turkey is a U.S. NATO ally and is unlikely to bargain long.

Under the Montreux Convention, warships of nations that have no direct access to the Black Sea may stay there no longer than 21 days and on condition that their combined displacement is not more than 30,000 tons. Formally, this prevents the U.S. 6th Mediterranean Fleet from sending an aircraft carrier to the Black Sea.

But, in the opinion of military expert Konstantin Makiyenko, even a modern cruiser and a few destroyers will be enough to neutralize Russia's Black Sea Fleet: "Today it is a museum-like collection of mismatched forces."

Theoretically, Moscow could send forces from other fleets to the Black Sea, but there is practically nothing to send. "The Northern Fleet acts as a nuclear deterrent," Makiyenko said. "The Pacific Fleet is too far away and has no forces suitable for the task."

The Baltic Fleet is compact-sized and well-balanced and has what is required, but its ships will be exposed to NATO's might while still en route to the Black Sea.

"If the Americans approach Poti and Batumi, we will have only one option left to save face: turn our ships back," said a Black Sea Fleet source. "Our peacekeeping mandate entitles us to stay in Abkhazian waters, especially since things will be calm there in the next few months. But it will be a troubled companionship, with possible provocations."

Russia has no time to restore its fleet, say military analysts and urge efforts to build up an aircraft task force in the region.

"The Black Sea is no ocean and within easy range of aircraft," Makiyenko said. Also, Russia must urgently strengthen Abkhazia's and South Ossetia's military and develop its control, command, communications and intelligence.

"If South Ossetia had had a strong army, our intervention could have been limited to air support," Makiyenko believes. "Our first encounter with far from the best foreign army has shown that the Georgians were equipped with better aircraft, tanks and communications. And what if they had fighter planes and state-of-the-art air defenses? It was our luck that Georgian soldiers proved to be so chicken-hearted." The pro-nuclear bias should be corrected, and as soon as possible, say specialists.

[Source: Novosti, Moscow, 20Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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