From Novaya gazeta, Nov. 17, 2021, p. 2. Complete text:
US Navy and NATO warships often enter the Black Sea, and combat and reconnaissance aircraft fly over it. There are no special agreements regulating flights in the airspace over the sea, but the military presence of non-Black Sea countries is regulated by the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, which in peacetime limits the tonnage, types of ships and the time they may remain [in the Black Sea] (up to 21 days).
Since the 2008 [Russian-] Georgian war and [Russia’s annexation of] the Crimea, tensions in the region have been escalating with each passing year, and today the Russian Defense Ministry is saying that “the US’s aggressive actions are endangering regional security and strategic stability.” The Americans are creating a “multinational grouping in close proximity to Russian borders to establish military control over Ukraine’s territory.” The Russian Defense Ministry claims that the West is conducting maneuvers in case Kiev is preparing an offensive operation in southeastern Ukraine and that US Navy ships are capable of provocation.
So on Oct. 30, the [Arleigh Burke-class] guided-missile destroyer USS Porter entered the Black Sea, followed on Nov. 3 by the [Henry J. Kaiser-class] fleet replenishment oiler USNS John Lenthall, and on Nov. 4, the [Blue Ridge-class command and control ship] USS Mount Whitney, the flagship of the US Sixth Fleet. The US ships visited Batumi, where [Georgian] Prime Minister Irakly Garibashvili arrived with other top Georgian officials. The Americans brought a military band; an Adzharian dance ensemble performed right on the pier; speeches about close friendship and Georgia’s unwavering pro-Western choice were delivered, but the coronavirus pandemic prevented a real public festival. Then the US warships headed for Bulgaria and Romania, where they were joined by Turkish and Romanian frigates, as well as by a Romanian corvette. They conducted joint maneuvers. The most powerful ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet – the [missile] cruiser Moskva and the frigate Admiral Essen – observed them from a distance on full combat alert. No one opened fire and there were no particular provocations.
The USNS John Lenthall can carry up to 40,000 [metric] tons of various oil products and fuels for refueling warships and aircraft carriers at sea. In peacetime, there are no weapons on board, but [in wartime] it can be armed with various automated antiaircraft artillery systems, including the Phalanx CIWS. The USS Mount Whitney has been in service for 50 years, since 1971, but its communications and computer systems are constantly modernized and upgraded. It is a joint command ship (interagency afloat command platform) that enables the commander of NATO’s southern flank to exercise command of the US Sixth Fleet, and joint allied forces in the Mediterranean Sea and the adjacent region in real time. It is based in Italy and also armed with antiaircraft automated artillery systems, including the Phalanx CIWS. In 2004, as part of a modernization program, the USS Mount Whitney’s complement was reduced from 600 [sailors] to 170 [officers and enlisted personnel], while more than 150 civilians (mostly IT specialists) were integrated into her crew.
The exact location of NATO’s Southern [Europe] headquarters and the US Sixth Fleet’s main base in Naples is well known, and in case of war they would be destroyed by a Russian strike. However, the USS Mount Whitney should be able to go to sea, where it would be far more difficult to get to it, and it would maneuver in the western Mediterranean, between Italy and Spain, performing its command and control mission. Needless to say, the USS Mount Whitney has no business being in the Black Sea in wartime, and its [recent] visit is a purely military-diplomatic and a PR action. The appearance of the USS Mount Whitney – a high-value but essentially noncombat ship – in the Black Sea clearly shows that the Americans are really not planning or anticipating any “provocations,” and that the threat of war in November 2021 is minimal.
It seems that the war rhetoric and military hysteria that is being ramped up has to do with the fact that Moscow is currently drawing up yet another rearmament and military organizational development plan, while the [State] Duma is considering a [national] budget that allocates no funds for treating hepatitis C patients and underfunds cancer treatment amid a rapidly declining average life expectancy in [Russia]. Yet there is money for new missiles, tanks, aircraft and nuclear weapons.
The US generals have their own problems with their budget, which leftist democrats would like to cut in favor of social spending. Furthermore, in keeping with tradition, about a year after inauguration, every new US president formulates and publishes his own nuclear strategy. The 2022 Nuclear Posture Review is currently being drafted in Washington, with reliable sources saying that contrary to the opinion of his generals, [US President] Joe Biden is determined not only to reduce or put on hold a number of nuclear rearmament programs, but for the first time in US history to officially declare a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons.
In his time, Leonid Brezhnev proclaimed a similar principle, which is currently lacking in Russia’s military doctrine. China’s nuclear strategy is also based on [this principle]. However, no one in the Soviet General Staff was going to bother with the no-first-use [policy] in the event of a possible war, and articles saying that this principle is harmful and unnecessary are now being published in Chinese progovernment media. Biden’s antinuclear and pacifist desire to adopt a no-first-use policy is drawing serious resistance and irritation both in Washington and among [Washington’s] allies.
In early November, William Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency and former ambassador to Russia, had talks, including telephone talks with [Russian] President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Burns returned to Washington convinced that there was a real threat of the sluggish conflict in the Donetsk Basin escalating into a large-scale Russian-Ukrainian regional war, of which the Americans wasted no time notifying their European allies. However, US military experts believe that right now the direct threat is minimal, since there is no logistical field infrastructure, hospitals, and so on near the border with Ukraine, which are necessary for a serious offensive operation. Of course, all of that could be additionally deployed, but not before mid-January 2022, experts believe.
The Kremlin and the White House are preparing an online summit between Putin and Biden in December and a one-on-one meeting sometime at the beginning of 2022. In April 2020, Biden and Putin also had telephone conversations and agreed on a personal meeting, which took place in June in Geneva [see, respectively, Vol. 73, No. 24‑25, pp. 3‑7, and No. 26, pp. 3‑6]. As a result, the “spring snap inspection of combat readiness” of the Russian Armed Forces, in the course of which, according to official data, “more than 300,000 military service personnel” and thousands of pieces of all kinds of military hardware were deployed on the [battle] field, ended quite peacefully by May. It seems that Washington is hoping to repeat the exact same successful diplomatic move.
Meanwhile, US and allied reconnaissance aircraft are increasingly flying in the Black Sea region. Evidently, they want to check what is really happening on the Russian side. Naval exercises are taking place in the [Black Sea]. The Russian Defense Ministry says that “Bulgarian, Georgian, Romanian, Turkish and Ukrainian forces” are slated to join them. However, Georgia has no Navy, and the others (except Turkey) are not in a position to effectively stand up to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
Of course, the USS Porter is a powerful warship. It has more than 90 antisubmarine [weapons], surface-to-air missiles and air defense systems, Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles, Harpoon [over-the-horizon] antiship [missiles], the Aegis command and control system, modern electronic warfare systems and other active air defense systems. The USS Porter’s combat capabilities are far superior to any Black Sea Fleet ship’s, but even so it has no business pushing into the Black Sea – at any rate, not until the sea- and ground-based antiship missile systems in the Crimea, the Caucasus coast and Black Sea Fleet warships are suppressed. The USS Porter is just as capable of launching long-range missiles from the Mediterranean.
In short, as long as US Navy and allied warships perform line dances with the Russian Navy, tracking each other within spitting distance and sailing in columns in each other’s wake, like hundreds of years ago, this is not a war and not even readiness for a real war, but a case of playing on the respectable public’s nerves – which, however, has to be paid for with billions in taxpayers money.