Ukraine: NATO Should Block the Bosporus and Assure its Allies

by Felix F. Seidler. Felix is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany and runs the site Seidlers Sicherheitspolitik”. This article was published there at first

The times for good-will diplomacy are over. In response, NATO should block the Bosporus for Russian warships. Putin wants to play great power politics? Okay, let’s do it.

Ukrainian soldiers, left and unidentified gunmen, right, guard the gate of an infantry base in Privolnoye, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Hundreds of unidentified gunmen arrived outside Ukraine's infantry base in Privolnoye in its Crimea region. The convoy includes at least 13 troop vehicles each containing 30 soldiers and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The vehicles — which have Russian license plates — have surrounded the base and are blocking Ukrainian soldiers from entering or leaving it. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Ukrainian soldiers, left and unidentified gunmen, right, guard the gate of an infantry base in Privolnoye, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Hundreds of unidentified gunmen arrived outside Ukraine’s infantry base in Privolnoye in its Crimea region. The convoy includes at least 13 troop vehicles each containing 30 soldiers and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The vehicles — which have Russian license plates — have surrounded the base and are blocking Ukrainian soldiers from entering or leaving it. (Darko Vojinovic/AP)

Choose a hard line!
The last time the Alliance has been as relevant as today was 9/11 or maybe even pre-1991. After the German-French-Polish brokered deal in Kiev has effectively failed, EU is out of business. Moreover, Russia obviously does not take the EU serious. Hence, Europe needs to be backed up by American power. In short, we need NATO.

Good-will diplomacy and communiques about cooperation had their chance. They failed. Putin is pursuing a hard line and so should the West. Through NATO as a political alliance, the West should take a hard line on Russia. Putin has been part of the problem in Iran and Syria already and he never intended to become part of the solution. Therefore, it is time that the West stops giving a damn about Russian positions.

Moreover, the UN will not be useful for anything. How should it, if Russia effectively decides what to do!? Therefore, let’s get down to business and do realpolitik as the Russians do.

Block the Bosporus!
Putin’s aim is to have Sevastopol as a naval base in the Black Sea, so that Russia is able to deploy warships to the Mediterranean. Hence, to get a bargain chip, NATO should block the Bosporus for all Russian warships, no matter whether leaving or entering the Black Sea. The blockade should not apply on civilian vessels.

Supported by a NATO decision, Turkey should suspend execution of the Montreux Convention, which grants Russian warships access to the Bosporus. NATO’s policy should be: As long as Russia intervenes in Ukraine, the Bosporus will be closed for Russia’s navy. Effectively, without access to the Bosporus, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet will be useless and its warships in the Mediterranean will face serious operational difficulties.

The Bosphorus marked by the red flash.

The Bosphorus marked by the red flash.

NATO should deploy one its Standing NATO Maritime Groups to Aegean Sea or to the Bosporus. Moreover, we need at least one US Navy vessels – maybe the USS Mount Whitney – around the theater to make clear that the blockade is absolutely serious. Thereafter, a simple deal could be: Russia leaves Ukraine and in return gets access through the Bosporus. Without that deal, Russia would keep a naval base in Sevastopol worth nothing.

Give Assurance to Eastern Europe
Given the West does not do anything and Russia takes the Crimea, it is likely that Ukraine’s east is next. Our allies in Eastern Europe rightly worry about their security.

Personally, I have many doubts that Germany would be willing to defend the Baltic states in case of a Russian invasion. NATO/EU membership would not matter. Can you imagine Angela Merkel giving her approval to invoke NATO’s Article 5, then asking the Bundestag to approve the case of defense (“Verteidigungsfall”), re-institute the draft (which we would have to do then) and to send the Bundeswehr up in the Baltic to fight the Russians out? I can hardly imagine.

In consequence, we have to renew the security guarantees for the Eastern European partners now and we have to do it with more than just words. This could mean to deploy additional fighters for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing. James Stavridis has mentioned the NATO Response Force as an option, which could be, according to Stavridis, brought into “a higher state of alert”. Moreover, SHAPE should develop contingency plans to respond to any assertive Russian behavior concerning NATO territory.

Please do not get me wrong. I do not want to make the case for the use of force. However, I want to make the case that NATO, by use of its military power, has to draw red lines and make clear to Putin that – this time – the red lines will be enforced.

Currently in the Mediterranean: the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)

Currently in the Mediterranean: the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)

Will Germany loose its face?
For Germany, this crisis is a moment of truth. In January, the President of Germany Joachim Gauck, the Defense and the Foreign Ministers established high ambitions for a more proactive German foreign and security policy. The most challenging issue now is, if Germany can deliver, so that the stated new ambitions (at least partially) meet with reality. Foreign minister Steinmeier’s negotiation efforts in Kiev were a sufficient try to meet the ambitions; however, more has not been delivered, yet.

By the way, where is Angela Merkel? Expressing “deep concern” on the phone to Putin will not have any impact. Given the world gets nothing else from Berlin but words, Germany risks to lose its face once again. Hence, Germany should be one of the leading nations in creating a response by NATO to Russia’s aggression; including my proposed Bosporus blockade.

Russia is not the worst threat to NATO
Since 1992, NATO has been engaged in out-of-area and combat missions. This era was about to end anyway through the lack of political will, resources and money. However, through Ukraine, NATO’s focus and relevance have settled back in Europe. We do not need NATO in Asia or Sub-Sahara Africa.

Instead, we are our worst own enemy. In principle, things look quite well: All NATO allies together remain superior to the rest of the world – economically, technologically, militarily, soft power. In practice, the West’s performance has been very poor. In Syria, Russia, China, Iran and Assad have very successfully played cats and dogs with the West – resulting in the long to be impossible declared survival of Assad’s regime. Even worse, Americans and Europeans let it happen that they became victim of Putin’s divide and rule game, under use of the chess pawn Edward Snowden. However, NATO states could succeed together in Ukraine and elsewhere, but this depends on strategic foresight and – most important – on political will.

Despite all criticism, the Alliance continued to exist and through Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it will continue to do so. However, to make a difference, Western governments, in particular the US and Germany, need to wake up and start doing realpolitik.

This entry was posted in English, Felix F. Seidler, Security Policy, Ukraine.

8 Responses to Ukraine: NATO Should Block the Bosporus and Assure its Allies

  1. […] even perfectly-designed economic sanctions won’t eject the Russians from Crimea, and what will be implemented in the coming days and weeks will be far from perfect. But the United States should impose sanctions anyway. The first thing to understand about sanctioning Russia over its incursion into the Crimea has nothing to do with the impact of the sanctions and everything to do with what is being demanded of Moscow. The United States wants Russia to withdraw military forces from a piece of territory they have long coveted. However much Russia has contravened international law over the past week, they’ve changed the facts on the ground. They control the Crimea, and public opinion in that autonomous republic is pretty Russo-friendly. The current status quo for Russia is that they control that territory. In world politics, there is no greater demand to ask of a government than to make de facto or de jure territorial concessions. The domestic and international ramifications of such a concession are massive — especially after force was used to occupy the territory. So recognize that the demand being attached to the sanctions is so large that success is extremely unlikely. The only case of economic coercion succeeding in a similar case in history was the 1956 Suez crisis. — Daniel W. Drezner, “Bringing the Pain – Can sanctions hurt Putin enough to make him give up Crimea?“, Foreign Policy, 07.03.2013.

  2. By the way…

    A Ukrainian navy sailor looks at the scuttled Russian ship from the Black Sea shore.A Ukrainian navy sailor looks at the scuttled Russian ship from the Black Sea shore.

    According to the Ukraine Defence Ministry spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Alexei Mazepa, Russian sailors pulled the anti-submarine vessel Ochakov out of a naval junkyard and sank it in the straits that connect the Black Sea with a body of water known as Donuzlav lake. He said the act was intended to prevent Ukrainian navy ships from leaving a nearby base and going to sea (Source: Sergei L. Loiko, “Russia sinks ship to block Ukrainian navy entry to Black Sea“, The Sydney Morning Herald, 07.03.2014).

  3. giggig says:

    Mr Putin’s dishonesty knows no limits,no shame. He denies command over those men, blockading Ukrainian naval operations. Smashing in the Infantry base gate, stealing or extorting all firearms from Ukrainian Soldiers. Starve them out, to defect to Russia. Newt Gingrich said, he is a dictator and a thug. I cannot agree more, when I see what’s going on between Putin, Iran and North Korea.

    Closing Bosporus to Russia would be seen as an act of war and Putin’s response precalculated (eg. Retorsion on Turkey). An act of war however is exactly, what he (Mr. Putin) has done so far. Especially if Mr. Putin was introducing these demonstrations in Kiew, as part of his war plan. Ukraine, at least the west of Ukraine, that is definitely now fighting for their freedom, must immediately join NATO, else they find themselves outgunned and outmanned. They would be forced to dislocate into Concentration Camps In Siberia and/or even North Korea.

    Comes to think of Korea, this war has not concluded and was the aggression war of Stalin. Stalin denied also command of his pilots that where unidentifiable men in 1953 against the UN. UN was formed with 27 or more Nations, even Japan contributed with logistic. These Pilots spoke Russian, but could not use their radios to avoid their ID.

    Closing Bosporus may trigger a major clash and break the ceasefire in Korea. Also in East Germany, no NATO bases have been established. Mr. Putin may be encouraged to do same procedures (Re-Possession) in Poland and the rest of the former Soviet Union. We and Japan need to arm up again. Engage in the ARM’S RACE, SIMULTANEOUSLY WITH THE BOSPORUS BLOCKADE. Gen Beetlove is NATO
    surpreme Commander.Commander in Chief however Obama. We have seen in Libya and Syria, how Mr Putin is thumpnosing Obama. Looks like Mr. Putin would like to pull his expansion plans off before the US (and NATO) inaugurates the new president. Remember, waging war of aggression is an international war crime, Putin and his thugs in the Kremlin would have to capitulate at the end and held responsible for it.

  4. giggig says:

    Turkey may say NO to the blockade. Remember March 2003, 4th US Army planed to roll towards Iraq.T hey denied the passage. The 4th Army had to travel at sea, all the way through the Suez and come in from the South as well. Gibraltar must be closed for Russia and their possible allies (eg.NK, Iran and whoever, incl.China ), as Plan B.

  5. The USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) anchors off the coast of Piraeus, Greece, 04.03.2014.The USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) anchors off the coast of Piraeus, Greece, 04.03.2014.

  6. In the military sphere, these include ordering the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), led by U.S. Gen. Phil Breedlove, to conduct prudent planning and present options in response to the situation. While such planning should be left to the current commanders and military experts, some ideas to consider would include:

    • Increasing all intelligence-gathering functions through satellites, Predator unmanned vehicles, and especially cyber.
    • Using the NATO-Ukrainian Commission and existing military partnerships with the Ukrainian military to share information, intelligence, and situational awareness with authorities in Kiev.
    • Providing advice to Ukrainian armed forces to prepare and position themselves in the event of further conflict.
    • Developing NATO contingency plans to react to full-scale invasion of Ukraine and to a partial invasion likely of Crimea. NATO contingency planning can be cumbersome, but in Libya it moved quickly.
    • Assigning one of the NATO Joint Force Commands (either Naples, Italy, or Brunssum, Netherlands) into direct overwatch of the situation.
    • Standing up NATO crisis centers to full manning, especially at SHAPE and the relevant Joint Force Command.
    • Ensuring that the Land and Maritime Component Commands (Izmir, Turkey, and Northwood in the United Kingdom, respectively) are conducting prudent planning in their areas of expertise and feeding their analysis to the Joint Force Command.
    • Bringing the NATO Response Force, a 25,000-man sea, air, land, and special forces capability, to a higher state of alert.
    • Convening allies with cyber-capabilities (this is not a NATO specialty) to consider options — at a minimum to defend Ukraine if it is attacked in this domain (as Georgia was).
    • Sailing NATO maritime forces into the Black Sea and setting up contingency plans for their use.

    James Stavridis, 4-star Navy admiral, 15th Commander of USEUCOM, NATO’s 16th SACEUR and 12th Dean of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, “NATO Needs to Move Now on Crimea“, Foreign Policy, 01.02.2014, links added by the Administrator.

  7. V says:

    Ukraine is not NATO. NATO is a defensive alliance. Hence, there can be no NATO action. If the US and/or whomever want to impose sanctions or take military action they will do it all by themselves.


    • Sorry V, but that’s partially wrong. Yes, Ukraine is not a NATO member, but NATO is not “only” a defensive alliance. For example NATO’s intervention into former Yugoslavia wasn’t defensive nor under the terms of international law. Of course, the alliance has the possibility to adopt military measures against whoever it wants, if they are approved by NATO’s member states (consensus decision-making). However, a such decision is unlikely at the moment.

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