Sunday, August 24, 2008

US Navy Headed Toward Black Sea

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The US Navy is headed toward Georgia to offer aid to the Georgian people. It's dubbed a "humanitarian effort" but make no mistake about this, this is surely a show of strength that Moscow must take note of:

As we speak, the USS Kearsarge assault ship is sailing alone in Latin America, totally unescorted, on its own humanitarian mission. Captain Walter Towns said he feels "pretty secure." The Georgia flotilla, by contrast, is stacked with heavily-armed warships. The vanguard includes the Burke-class destroyer McFaul (pictured)and the armed Coast Guard cutter Dallas. (Another Dallas, a nuclear submarine, is also in the area.) Trailing behind is the command ship Mount Whitney with, reportedly, Polish and Canadian frigates as escorts. The naval aid effort isn't taking any chances.

And for good reason. Russia's Black Sea fleet dominated the waters off Georgia from the early days of the fighting, and now it's been announced that the sole Russian aircraft carrier, Kuznetsov, is headed to the eastern Mediterranean. In 1991 Kuznetsov illegally sneaked through Turkey's Bosporus Strait (see map here--ed.) that connects the Med to the Black Sea. "It will be interesting to see if Russia does it again," Galrahn writes over at Information Dissemination.

Ironically, the Kuznetsov was once named the Tblisi. Video here of the carrier.

It's a dangerous game to have warships in close proximity to one another as accidents can happen and tensions can be exacerbated. Here's a map of the Black Sea:

Note the only entrance is through the Sea of Marmara and past Istanbul. Tight quarters to be sure. US Navy and Coast Guard ships in a smallish sea with the Russians only carrier keeping station along the Georgian coast is a recipe for disaster. The Russians are also digging in along the Black Sea coast.

These are real issues that will have far-reaching consequences with regard to Russia's growing influence in the region. Putin has to be met with stiff American and international resistance to make him think twice the next time he makes a move. One must wonder how a President Obama (shudder) would handle a growing crisis like this and would he have the balls to send US warships to a hot area in defense of allies or would he instead meet with Putin or Medvedev with no pre-conditions?

Some good will come from this; US allies will see that we keep our word, plus we'll get to eyeball the Russian carrier and see exactly what technical abilities the rusting Russian navy still possesses.

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