NATO and Russian forces are both refusing to change course in the Black Sea, where recent military confrontations have raised fears of a sudden violent escalation dragging in the U.S., Russia, the European Union and Ukraine.
In recent weeks, Russian forces have confronted British and Dutch ships sailing close to Crimean territorial waters, a region annexed by Moscow in 2014, and considered Russian by Moscow. However, NATO allies have never accepted the annexation, while also condemning the Kremlin’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
Russia claimed to have fired warning shots at the British destroyer HMS Defender—a claim denied by British defense officials—and Russian jets reportedly conducted mock attack runs against Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen.
The Black Sea has long been a hotspot for Western-Russian tensions. The Ukraine crisis made it an even more potent flashpoint, with Moscow’s seizure of the strategically valuable peninsula winning it a strong outpost in the Black Sea to go along with its existing naval base in the coastal city of Sevastopol.
The Black Sea is one of the triggers that “creates the potential for an explosion in U.S.-Russian tension,” explained Mark Simakovsky, a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council who formerly served as Russia country director and Europe/NATO chief of staff in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy.
Both sides, Simakovksy said, will likely be “very worried and concerned about” such triggers.
But both are refusing to blink first.
A NATO official told Newsweek that alliance nations would not be changing their operations despite Russian protests.
“NATO ships routinely operate in the Black Sea, consistent with international law, usually patrolling the waters for around two-thirds of the year,” the official said.
“NATO supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, extending to its territorial waters. We do not and will not recognise Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea and denounce its temporary occupation.”