Russia is trying to raise a new “iron curtain”, which runs through the Black Sea, with Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria on the one hand and Georgia, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, on the other hand in order to use them force against countries not part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This is the statement of the American reserve general Ben Hodges, who between 2014 and 2017 was commander of the US Land Forces in Europe (USAREUR), in an interview given to the Ukrainian publication Segodnia.
Under these conditions, it is necessary for NATO to increase the presence in the Black Sea so that it has more possibilities to ensure freedom of navigation, to protect the Alliance, and to discourage Russia from aggressive actions against “ours partners”, says Hodges.
In the interview, the American general expressed concern about the situation related to Odessa. “What Russia has done in Crimea could extend to Odessa (southwestern Ukraine),” he said.
“When we announce the location of future exercises (in the Black Sea), they (the Russians) are closing access to these areas. This is a form of temporary blockade against Odessa. It’s not a coincidence. That is why Romania and our other allies are so worried ”, said Ben Hodges.
“As Ukraine continues to modernize defense reform program, it should also consider unmanned devices. Some kind of drones, but for maritime activities: underwater and surface drones to assist in reconnaissance activities, to follow surface vessels and submarines,” said the former USAREUR commander.
According to him, Kiev can do many things for security in the Black Sea, such as exchanging information with Romania, Georgia and the US.
“It is very important to be very precise in the signals sent to the Kremlin: we are prepared and present in the Black Sea region. And we must act together”, said Ben Hodges, stressing that only through the cooperation of the states can the Black Sea area be secured. “There is no country that could do this alone. Only an Alliance, plus the partners, with a common network, can coordinate an information service and an action in order to achieve this objective”.
Referring to the “Turkish Stream” and “Nord Streams” gas pipelines, the US general stressed that Russia could use military force to defend its infrastructure.
“I do not exclude that Russia could try to do this. I participated in discussions where the scenario of Russia’s blockade of Klaipede (one of the largest ports in the Baltic Sea) in Lithuania was examined due to a presumed threat to the Nord Stream”, he said, adding that NATO must be prepared to respond to such challenges.
Welcoming the release of the 24 ukrainian sailors in a recent prisoner exchange with Russia, Hodges said that Moscow must return to Kiev and the three ships seized in the Black Sea naval incident last November.
“I personally believe that we must maintain sanctions against Russia in order for it to pay the price for this act of piracy”.
At the same time, he rejected the scenario of a large-scale war between Russia and Ukraine in the near future. “At present, large-scale attacks by the Russians and their advance are unlikely to capture more territories in Ukraine or any attack by Kiev to recover the Donbas”, the US general said. According to him, the Kremlin is very pleased with what he has achieved: he has captured Crimea, and the international community cannot seem to do anything about it.