The Black Sea has become a hotspot in the still tenser relations between NATO and Russia and questions have been rising what countries like Romania can do against a possible Russian aggression. Romanian PM this week called for an active NATO presence in the Black Sea, while the Romanian Defense Ministry has launched a debate on the prospects of creating a joint NATO fleet in the region. But how do the fleets of countries such as Romania, Bulgaria or Turkey compare to Russia's?
- On Tuesday, Romanian PM Dacian Ciolos said Romania wanted an active NATO presence in the Black Sea region. He made the call at talks with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg, who, according to Ciolos, said he would support such an initiative. Ciolos said he would hold the initiative to strengthen cooperation with Bulgaria and Turkey, a cooperation that should expand internationally.
But how does the military balance in the region look like?
Romania is strongly dependent on its NATO allies in case of a maritime conflicte at the Black Sea. Romania's Navy is small as compared to the large powers of the region - Russia and Turkey, while its assets are aging and need updates.
Omar Lamrani, military analyst with the think tank Stratfor, has told HotNews.ro that "in terms of overall capability, the Romanian Navy is significantly behind the Turkish and Russian navies in the Black Sea, of comparable strength to the Bulgarian Navy, and significantly ahead of Ukraine and Georgia.
"The vast majority of Romania's current vessels were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Therefore, Romanian vessels are aging, and much like its air force, are in need of upgrading and replacement.
- "Romania has a strong number of frigates, corvettes, and minesweepers (though aging), but is considerably disadvantaged by very minimal naval aviation, very weak naval surface-to-air defense, and mediocre anti-submarine capability. Romania also lacks an effective submarine force."
Asked at what point in a possible conflict in the Black Sea region the allies would intervene to support Romania, Omar Lamrani said "that would depend entirely on the conflict in question. If the conflict is one with Russia, especially a high intensity conflict in the Black Sea, then Romania would be heavily dependent on its NATO allies for help, particularly as it lacks effective naval surface to air capability and will thus be vulnerable to Russian aviation carrying anti-ship missiles."
The Stratfor analyst said that while "Russia maintains the largest vessel types in the Black Sea, the Russian Black Sea presence is handicapped by an aging force structure that is only now receiving considerable upgrades. NATO's position is cemented due to the Turkish Navy, which is the dominant naval force in the Black Sea as it can quickly shuttle vessels into the area from its Mediterranean fleets as well. The Russian advantage remains in the number of air assets it can shuttle to its airfield in the area, as well as its highly potent ground based anti-ship missile batteries.
- "The Turks have a decisive underwater edge, with more than a dozen submarines in service in total. The Russians in comparison have three active submarine in the Black Sea and will shortly receive two more. The Turks also have a larger number of surface vessels, approximately 25 frigates and corvettes, many of which are quite modern. In comparison, the Russians have some 15 vessels of corvette or larger size. The Russian advantage is the Moskva, a Slava-class cruiser that is the largest vessel in the Black Sea. The Moskva however is an aging vessel that was first launched in 1979.
- "In an enclosed sea like the Black Sea, these factors are very important. From the Crimea, Russian land-based anti-ship missiles have a very deep reach into the Black Sea. When working in conjunction with naval and air force assets, the Russians can deliver a very potent layered attack against any vessels in the Black Sea."
The expert said that "due to limits set by the Montreux Convention, the US has serious limits on its presence in the Black Sea. The US presence is important however as a reminder that a war with its NATO allies would draw in the US military into the fight. A US carrier in the Mediterranean, an occasional presence under current policy, is helpful, but the real strength of a US military response to a Black Sea contingency would lie in its Air Force that could operate from numerous European airfields within reach of the Black Sea."