The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas, carrying 34 tons of humanitarian aid, docked in the Black Sea port of Batumi, south of the zone of this month's fighting between Russia and Georgia. The arrival avoided Georgia's main cargo port of Poti, still controlled by Russian soldiers.
The U.S. Embassy in Georgia had earlier said the ship was headed to Poti, but then retracted the statement. Zaza Gogava, head of Georgia's joint forces command, said Poti could have been mined by Russian forces and still contained several sunken Georgian ships hit in the fighting.
Poti's port reportedly suffered heavy damage from the Russian military. In addition, Russian troops have established checkpoints on the northern approach to the city and a U.S. ship docking there could be perceived as a direct challenge.
Meanwhile, Russia's missile cruiser, the Moskva, and two smaller missile boats anchored at the port of Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, some 180 miles north of Batumi. The Russian navy says the ships will be involved in peacekeeping operations.
I recently mentioned that I thought that submarines were not allowed through the Turkish straits, so we wouldn't have any submarines in the Black Sea to support Georgia. I remembered that the Soviet Mediterranean squadron used ships from the Black Sea Fleet and submarines from the Northern Fleet. I thought it was from treaty restrictions on the Dardanelles and Bosporus.
Apparently not, as our naval effort to send supplies to the Georgians indicates:
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.
One of our nuclear attack submarines, Dallas, is in the area? That is, in the Black Sea?
So I checked out the provisions of the Montreux Convention:
During peacetime, light surface vessels [defined as warships displacing more than 100 tons but not above 10,000 tons] of all powers may transit the straits after giving prior notice to Turkey as required by the Convention. Turkey may waive the notification requirement if the warships were transiting for the purpose of providing humanitarian assistance. The choice of "light surface vessels" as the largest warship allowed through the straits effectively kept the new German "pocket battleships" out of the Black Sea -- a primary goal of the Soviet negotiators.
Capital ships of Black Sea powers may transit the straits provided that they did so in accordance with the Convention. The Black Sea powers (the Soviet Union, Bulgaria, and Romania) had two additional options, one involving submarines and the other permitting their "capital ships" with a tonnage greater than 10,000 to transit the straits.
The Convention applies specific individual and aggregate tonnage and numbers limits. These limitations effectively preclude the transit of capital ships and submarines of non-Black Sea powers through the Straits, unless exempted under Article 17. Article 17 of the Convention permits a naval force of any tonnage or composition to pay a courtesy visit of limited duration to a port in the straits, at the invitation of the Turkish Government. In such instances, the tonnage and numbers limitations of the Convention do not apply. Warships of non-Black Sea powers may not remain in the Black Sea longer than 21 days.
So it seems that we aren't supposed to have submarines in the Black Sea under routine circumstances. So Turkey must have invited us. And we aren't supposed to linger for more than 21 days. Even though we never signed the treaty, we observe it.
So it is interesting that such a small NATO armada is sailing into the Black Sea, given the treaty limits.
I wonder how we could maintain a naval presence in the Black Sea without running afoul of treaty limits? Would three-week deployments make sense? Can we get the treaty revised to base our light forces there permanently in Romanian and Bulgarian ports?
Certainly, the Russians have remembered the treaty:
Although Western nations have called the Russian military presence in Poti a clear violation of an European Union-brokered cease-fire, a top Russian general has called using warships to deliver aid "devilish."
Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn warned that NATO has already exhausted the number of forces it can have in the Black Sea, according to international agreements, and warned Western nations against sending more ships.
"Can NATO — which is not a state located in the Black Sea — continuously increase its group of forces and systems there? It turns out that it cannot," Nogovitsyn was quoted as saying Wednesday by the Interfax news agency.
Actually, that just telegraphs Russian weakness. They're appealing to the referee to call a foul? What? The ancient Moskva can't handle our Coast Guard?
The Black Sea is no Russian lake. And their position won't be saved with a Red Card kicking our ships out.
Still, it would help to brush up on your obscure treaties.