NATO Action to Counter Russia’s Plan to Legitimize and Make Permanent Its Naval Blockade of Ukraine

Please see the full text of the NATO Action to Counter Russia’s Plan to Legitimize and Make Permanent Its Naval Blockade of Ukraine post on Google Docs.

Introductory Note

NATO and Ukraine’s friends in the West must break Russia’s naval blockade of Ukraine, as argued in a companion post, “Breaking Russia’s Naval Blockade.” This post describes Russia’s ploy to gain UN endorsement for its plan, usurp the humanitarian mantel, end the food crisis, and sideline NATO permanently. NATO must take action immediately to prevent Russia from carrying out this plan. Russia is on the verge of achieving a success that may prove irreversible. This post also describes the actions NATO needs to take. If it does not act decisively now, its naval power will remain irrelevant, as it has been, but permanently—with consequences that will negatively affect negotiations for termination of the war and reach beyond the Black Sea well into the future.

Abstract

Russia’s 1 July statement that it will support a “humanitarian corridor for the export of Ukrainian grain” appeared to be a bizarre political blunder and an open invitation for the West to take strategic action.

It is now (13 July) revealed to be the harbinger of an artful political strategy to use Turkey and the UN to legitimize Russia’s blockade and give Russia permanent control of Ukraine’s exports and imports.

It is imperative for NATO to act now to give Ukraine the credible alternative of a defended humanitarian corridor. Russia is on the verge of announcing (in the week of 17 July) its acceptance of a UN-endorsed plan to move Ukraine’s out by sea under Russian-Turkish-Ukrainian joint cooperation.

If NATO does not take immediate declaratory and naval/military action, it will be sidelined and remain as irrelevant as it has been till now, but for at least the duration of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Russia is basically admitting that it alone is responsible for the barrier that has stopped grain exports. Its claims that Ukraine has withheld its own exports do not stand a simple test of plausibility.

Moreover, Russia cannot call for a “corridor” through its own barrier and then turn around and interdict it, regardless of the corridor’s political aegis. Russia has essentially ruled itself out of naval action against the southward flow of grain. Russia’s army-dominated General Staff will readily forgo naval options because it believes its ground forces will close/capture Odesa in due course.

Interdiction of grain-laden ships would be politically impossible for Russia to justify. It would reveal in the irrefutable language of action that in reality Russia does not support humanitarian efforts to reduce world famine; Russian policy and propaganda would suffer grievous, self-inflicted political damage.

It would also trigger and justify what Russia wants least (and NATO should do in any case): concerted action to build a strongly defended, permanent near-shore sea corridor from Odesa (at least) to the Bosporus, thus denying Russia the strategic leverage over Ukraine and the West that its successful and cost-free naval blockade has so far provided.

However, if Russia is successful in garnering UN endorsement for its plan to export Ukrainian grain, NATO action will be impossible to justify politically; Russia will gain international gratitude for famine relief; retain a strong card in any negotiations for termination of the war; and if Russia gains the upper hand in its war against Ukraine, the Black Sea might well be under permanent Russo-Turkish control; a strategic alliance of the two countries, long sought by Russian “Eurasianists” (including Putin) might become a reality.

Therefore, Ukraine should very publicly request the West’s help to resist Russia/Turkey/UN  demands for “joint” (i.e., Russian) control of ships leaving or arriving at its ports; the West must offer Ukraine a credible alternative.

It should immediately accept Russia’s offer of a humanitarian corridor, through public declarations issued at the highest levels (SecState, NATO SecGen, etc.); Ukraine and NATO should announce plans to begin moving grain ships/barges southward as soon as preparations for a near-shore defended corridor are in place, ideally as early as the end of July when the 2022 harvest begins. (The West should also publicly lend Ukraine empty barges to store and later export the new grain.)

The EU should announce financial and logistic support for the operation to be carried out entirely on the territory and within the territorial waters of Ukraine and NATO members Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey; NATO should honor Ukraine’s request that it provide command and control and defense of the corridor as a prudent precaution in case, by accident or design, grain ships/barges are sunk or forced to return to port.

NATO should immediately deploy a contingent of shallow water minesweepers, patrol boats and coastal/riverine craft via the Danube, the canal to Constanta, and, with Turkey’s acquiescence, via the Bosporus. These naval ships should include patrol boats (US Mk VI being ideal) for force protection but otherwise have no significant offensive capabilities; land-based air and anti-ship defenses should be augmented and ASW mines deployed where needed; NATO should subtly put Russia on notice that, if it interferes, NATO will accelerate and intensify development of a permanent Western corridor.

Turkey’s role is problematic. It is obviously committed to the Russia-Turkey-UN plan for grain exports with its “coordination center” in Istanbul.  However, that plan will be precluded by Ukraine’s rejection and its adoption of the NATO alternative of a defended corridor. Given its laudable humanitarian purpose and under the protection of NATO’s commitment, Turkey could eventually choose to become a participant.

The UN should endorse NATO actions as much as Russia’s veto allows, but UN authorization is not required. Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey have complete sovereign justification for all actions that take place within their territorial waters.

The US should ensure that any (unlikely) Russian attempts at interdiction are widely reported in real time by world media, whose reporters would be embedded in NATO ships deployed to support/defend grain shipments.

The EU, the US, and others should guarantee insurance for grain carrying ships/barges and buy initial shipments of grain to donate to famine-threatened countries in the Mideast and Africa; the aim would be to:

Counter Russia’s disinformation campaign that depicts the rise in world grain prices as caused not by Russia’s blockade but by Western sanctions against Russia. Russia’s call for a humanitarian corridor has already undercut that campaign’s logic.

Immediately transfer cash to the shippers, farmers, and government of Ukraine, which in any case must be provided monetary support if the economy is not to contract further, and Ukraine is to continue fighting.

Publicly, Western media in all dimensions should underline that blockade-breaking efforts have no security motives and are undertaken solely to fight world famine (more than 180 million people are said  to be at risk). The West should make clear it intends to guarantee future export of Ukraine’s grain.

Privately, NATO should exploit measures taken to defend the humanitarian corridor to build a permanent defensive barrier—infrastructure, operational capabilities, command and control, and ISR, including ASW sensors. The aim is a glacis for the currently undefended seaward approaches to Ukraine and NATO’s Balkan members.

The West should contain Russia in the Black Sea immediately and in the extended future.

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