NATO to Boost Naval Presence in Black Sea
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – NATO will step up naval war games and surveillance in the Black Sea to complement its increased land and air force presence near a more assertive Russia, the alliance said Thursday.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted the decision taken by alliance defense ministers in Brussels was not designed to be a provocation at a time of heightened tensions with Russia.
"We agreed on... an increased NATO naval presence in the Black Sea for enhanced training, exercises and situational awareness," Stoltenberg told a press conference.
A NATO official told AFP on condition of anonymity the decision was taken to deal with Russia's military buildup in the Black Sea and bolster the alliance's southeastern flank after it sent troop reinforcements to the Baltic States and Poland in the northeast.
The official also said the goal was to boost intelligence gathering, such as on Russian ground-to-air missiles in the region.
"We will have an increased presence in the Black Sea but it will be measured, it will be defensive and it will in no way be provoking any conflict or escalating tensions," Stoltenberg said.
"It is one element in a broader adaptation of NATO defense and deterrence to a more demanding and challenging security environment, including the Black Sea region," he added.
NATO allies Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania share the Black Sea littoral, as do partner countries Ukraine and Georgia, both of which have direct territorial disputes with Moscow.
The NATO official told AFP that it took the alliance some nine months since the Warsaw summit to iron out the agreement, partly because Bulgaria did not want to be seen to be provoking Moscow.
The source said the littoral states were also wary of the other's own military presence in the Black Sea, where they have had disputes over fishing rights and other issues.
The official said the alliance also plans soon to step up air patrols over the Black Sea.