When Russia struck Ukraine, the nearest NATO ally’s military warship was in the Mediterranean. Over a month ago, the last such ship from a major naval member of the Western military alliance departed the Black Sea – a region roughly the size of California bordered by Russia, Ukraine, NATO members Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania.
According to Turkish maritime website Turkishnavy.net, which analyzes the movements of foreign vessels, a French destroyer concluded a tour in early January and no major NATO naval ally has patrolled its seas since. Meanwhile, according to Turkishnavy.net and Russian defense ministry announcements, 16 ships from Russia’s naval fleets, including missile ships and boats capable of landing tanks, have sailed into the Black Sea.
As NATO scrambles to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Black Sea represents a significant vulnerable flank. Despite a professed intention to discourage Russia, the alliance has been unable to prevent Moscow from establishing a foothold in the region.
According to Reuters interviews with diplomats, intelligence officials, and security sources from NATO members, as well as military strategists, retired military commanders, and shipping industry officials, a key reason is divisions among members over whether to challenge Russia’s navy in the area, resulting in a lack of a coherent and meaningful Black Sea NATO strategy.