He warns Russia’s next step could be to set up a blockade in the Azov, to weaken the Ukrainian economy, or to seize Ukrainian ports and build a corridor to Crimea, potentially connecting new Russian seized territory from Donbas to Odessa – including the Sea of Azov and increased influence and A2AD in the Black Sea area.
CEPA Warsaw Director, US Army Colonel Ray Wojcik, in an interview with PolskieRadio24.pl, stresses the importance of increasing American and NATO military presence on NATO’s eastern flank and to include further NATO Adaptation in the region, “Permanent Presence” of some US, and other NATO units. This kind of increased presence would be an additional significant boost to security and defense in the whole region. Though discussions of Permanent Presence are still at an early stage, it ought to be rapidly addressed and a plan of action developed to support it. In addition to Permanent Presence in Poland, the US and NATO should analyze other areas on the East Flank of NATO, where Permanent Presence can have a major impact on deterrence, assurance, and regional military capabilities.
Colonel Ray Wojcik says that now the U.S. should move forward to impose Nord Stream 2 sanctions. Nord Stream 2, as he stated, is extremely divisive in the EU, making it clear to many members, that bigger EU states may do as they want, while other states (less powerful, or influential), must adhere strictly to EU rules. This situation creates a great military danger to the whole region and to Europe, as we could easily imagine a Russian plan of a NS flotilla established by Russia to “guard” the NS energy corridor under the Baltic. The same idea could be seen developing once Turk Stream is established in the Black Sea.
CEPA Warsaw Director is very concerned with Russian aggressive actions in the Ukraine. He says the Kremlin has to be given red lines by NATO/West, to not cross further – without specific red lines, Russia will continue to probe the limits of its aggression in Ukraine, and potentially other regions on the Eastern Flank. He makes an appeal that it is out of balance for other nations to call for “de-escalation on both sides” of the Azov problem, (as the German MFA has stated). This kind of comment does not distinguish who is the victim and the aggressor. And that is what Russia wants, which as the aggressor, wants to present itself through propaganda as a victim and also as an object of unfair allegations.
Mariupol. PAP/EPA/IRINA GORBASYOVA
Agnieszka Marcela Kamińska, PolskieRadio24.pl: How would you describe the situation in the Azov Sea? What are Russia’s aims there?
CEPA Warsaw Director, US Army Colonel Ray Wojcik, ex-Army Attaché in American Embassy in Warsaw: Russia is probing our outer defenses on the edge of NATO as well as our reactions.
Russians continue to do this to see what our response will be; how Ukraine, the West, the US, NATO and the EU are going to react.
In this case, Russia has put us in another situation where we do not have a fast way to respond. This appears in both Diplomatic, Economic and Military spheres that we are not well coordinated to respond. This helps Russia.
Ukraine decided on martial law etc., while Ukraine does not have enough military strength to put up a big fight against Russia as Russia continues strangling the Azov Sea.
It is clear that Russia wants to continue provocations and to weaken as much as possible the Ukrainian state, and stir up chaos among the EU, NATO, and the United States. The strength of the West, NATO, the EU, the US – is our unity and cohesion, but not only. It’s our ability to quickly and decisively respond to Russian aggression.
Russia has taken another step to interdict commerce and to reduce the economic potential of Ukraine in the Azov Sea.
Russia continues to do other things along the same lines. They continue to challenge NATO aircraft in the Black Sea and Baltic Sea. They come very close to NATO ships and aircraft. Russia continues strengthening its A2A2 capabilities in Kaliningrad and Crimea. Russia is taking advantage of their ability to provoke us and to see what we will do next. It is a very dangerous situation.
What could be the solution in the Azov Sea crisis?
On the larger strategic front NATO and the EU should develop a coherent strategic approach to the Black Sea region. This should mean more ability to involve our allies in the region – these are Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, as well as our partners, Ukraine, Georgia.
NATO has spent a lot of time over the course of the last few years concentrating on the north-eastern part of the flank and security concerns of the Baltics and Poland for example. NATO must continue to do that, but NATO also needs to do more in developing a coherent strategy in the Black Sea region.
Many ask now, why there have been no NATO ships in the region as the situation in the Azov Sea is getting worse through months, not to mention the bridge built over the Kerch Strait which should have alarmed us much more, just from the first moment one heard about it.
There are some limitations in the Black Sea. One of them is the Montreux Convention. It comes from 1930s and it gives Turkey a lot of control of what can enter and what can leave the Black Sea and requires notifications of movements to the Turkish government. Because of the Montreux Convention, a NATO ship or any ship that comes not from the Black Sea region can only stay in the Black Sea up to 21 days and then it has to leave. So, this is a significant limitation on bringing NATO ships to patrol the region and to do more combined activities in the region. There are also limitations on how much the ship can weigh. Within the Montreux limitations, still much more could be done by NATO in Black Sea presence, and exercises.
A coherent NATO Black Sea strategy should include a focus on more support from Turkey. As a pivotal NATO member, Turkey can be an incredible force for good in the Black Sea region. Turkey holds the keys to updating the Montreux Convention for example. Turkey could be a Black Sea Naval leader alongside Romania in providing a counter to Russian influence in the Black Sea. NATO and the US have had some difficult challenges in relationships with Turkey for some years. An area the U.S. might consider, is readdressing recently failed weapons sales plans to Turkey, including air defense. Perhaps there is a way to work out a compromise between the US and Turkey, which could see Turkey cancelling its plan to buy Russian air defense systems, and then, such a deal with the US, might create conditions to convince Turkey that it is time to update the Montreux Convention.
On the diplomatic front we missed an opportunity as the West and the alliance to have a very strong coherent statement about new Russian aggression. There has been a lot of statements; the U.S. statement could have been swifter and stronger for example. While the German statement called for de-escalation on both sides, even though it is abundantly clear that Russia is the aggressor. The idea of mutual de-escalation places Ukraine in the same category as the Russians - as an aggressor.
That is the problem. We need strong, swift and coherent statements from the West, NATO, the EU, in which we all say that Russia’s aggressive activity in the region, is an attempt to further annex territory (in this case the Sea of Azov). That Crimea is not Russian territory and the Crimean, and Ukrainian territorial waters belong to Ukraine! The West must be speedy, strong and coherent.
On the military front we need to be considering additional armaments to Ukraine. Ukraine needs: (1) anti-ship missiles; (2) more patrol boats; (3) air defense systems; (4) intelligence and maritime awareness systems; (5) modern drone systems with attack capabilities.
I would add a couple of other things: more US, NATO, Ukrainian naval exercises and then also intelligence surveillance cooperation of the US, Ukraine and NATO. Even within the limits of the Montreux Convention depending on the type of ships you can have up to nine ships on patrol in the Black Sea.
We could increase NATO drone surveillance as well with unmanned aircraft – I mean surveillance over the Black Sea and sharing back information to Ukraine.
On the economic front we should look at more sanctions on Russia, potentially freeze the assets of some Russian banks, impose sanctions on Russian shipping e.g. on the Black Sea and this could be the direct response. And finally, the time is now for the United States to boldly move forward on sanctions against the companies that support Nord Stream II.
As I understand now the chances that we could see these sanctions in force are greater now?
We have a very dangerous situation in the Black Sea region, but of course we have also a dangerous situation in the Baltic region. I think that also in Baltic region we have not done enough to make it fully secure. We have Russian planes’ activity over the Baltics, Iskanders in Kaliningrad. Due to the security threats Polish government is trying to increase US-army presence in our country.
As far as Baltic region is concerned, this description of security threats is quite accurate This is why CEPA is pressing hard for NATO, the US, the West to think of our East Flank approach to security in a very COHERENT way.
Next year, CEPA’s core security project addresses the need for East Flank coherence and will develop strong recommendations on how to achieve this coherence. It means to focus as much as possible on the Baltic and the Black Seas, not forgetting about anything important and giving them balanced attention.
And now we have an additional security threat here – Nord Stream 2.
Nord Stream 2 is not only a divisive project in the EU. It makes it appear that if you are a powerful EU nation, that you can play by different rules and if you are a small country or not so rich, then you must abide by the EU rules, and do not have the same voice as big EU countries. So, it is very divisive. It creates an unprecedented situation in focusing the vast majority of Russian gas to Europe, through one underwater corridor, and to Germany. It puts Germany in an advantageous economic situation by conducting the follow on land transit, after the NS gas arrives on Germany territory. The project totally thwarts the goal of European gas diversification and presents a major loss of transit revenue to Ukraine.
And make no mistake, this loss of the transit to Ukraine must be linked to the potential for future Russian aggression in Ukraine. The Nord Stream 2 project in the Baltic Sea will lead to Russia feeling like it has a free hand in Ukraine for more aggressive military activity. Once gas transit ceases through Ukraine, Russia will not have to be concerned of aggravating Western Europe, as gas flows through Ukraine will not be interrupted in the face of potential expanded Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The 4-pipeline underwater gas corridor which NS1 and NS2 will represent, will surely give Russia justification to establish a “Nord Stream Flotilla,” with the “mission” to provide security for Nord Stream pipelines. It gives Russia more justification to increase its naval presence and capabilities in the Baltic Sea and brings new dangers to all nations on the Baltic Sea, and beyond.
What is CEPA’s stance on increasing the permanent presence of the US army here in Poland? The Polish government is trying to trigger the project right now.
The Russians continue to build up capabilities in Kaliningrad with modern air defense and modern long-range missiles. On their ships they can put Caliber missiles that can reach deep into Europe. And so on.
CEPA has prepared a special report on permanent presence. CEPA has taken the position that when the east flank nations joined NATO, they were given two out of three of the major benefits from NATO. They have received (1) permanent political infrastructure and (2) permanent treaty infrastructure (Article 5). What the eastern flank has not been given – is permanent military infrastructure. That is why CEPA has made the case: “the time is NOW,” to consider permanent presence of U.S./NATO forces on NATO’s eastern flank, and that the best place to start is Poland.
We believe that the number one issue with this kind of presence is that we will strengthen NATO deterrence of Russia, while at the same time, we increase assurance among regional allies. Then, we strongly increase military-military deeper integration – I mean US forces, with Poland and regional allies. That is, habitual unit-unit relationships, increasing Poland and East Flank military capabilities. A key focus for the next 10-15 years should be to increase the European pillar of NATO. Permanent Presence of US forces in Poland answers that question in this region. Then in the longer term, if the US is called to respond to danger in the Pacific, with China, the Permanent Presence system on NATO’s Eastern Flank, will see regional allies stronger to handle threats from Russia. Now as far as who likes Permanent Presence in Poland, well, it is not just Poland. In CEPA’s analysis, and discussions, we have heard nothing, but support for Permanent Presence of US forces in Poland (for example), by other nations on NATO’s eastern flank. No nation says, “Why Poland?,” the Baltics for example have said that US Perm Presence in Poland sends a clear signal to Russia of a definite US/NATO red-line and puts US forces closer in a response status to vulnerable east flank areas including the Baltic nations. As far as Western allies are concerned about US Permanent Presence, our position at CEPA is that the discussion has begun, and let’s take time together, to evaluate what Permanent Presence might look like, its costs, and benefits. Certainly there is a misnomer in the equation by some Western allies, that Permanent Presence means large US bases, with large static units. That is not the case we are making. And, we are also are not making the case to end the current system of rotational forces to the Flank region. Rather our case is to consider a blend of rotational and Permanent infrastructure and forces as the right mix to respond to Russia’s aggression.
What could be future scenarios, concerning Russian actions? Can we think about upcoming developments?
If Russia is not deterred, they will continue to move forward just like they are doing now. It is obvious. As CEPA’s Russia Program Director recently noted, Russia sees Ukraine as a laboratory “Guinea Pig,” to which it continues aggressive and probing activities. Where Russia sees success, it can deduce the possibility of trying these techniques in other areas, including NATO territory.
Some are arguing against the permanent presence of the US forces in Poland noting that this could provoke the Russians. But if we look at Kaliningrad, Crimea, Donbas, Georgia, Syria, MH17, Skripal Attack, NS2 and more, well the West has really not responded in a permanent way. A few years ago, a well-known 4-star Western general said of all of Russia’s aggression that, “I hear much about Russia being provoked…my question is, when are we (the West) going to be provoked?” I agree with this statement, it’s about time the West does much more, and does much more in a coherent way. Russia responds to strength, we know that – lets demonstrate that kind of strength to Russia.
NATO needs to strengthen its security in all dimensions. We should not only focus on Land Forces, on naval and air presence and activities, but as well, strongly in information warfare, cyberwar, countering propaganda and in the area of Lawfare (where Russia attempts to use meritless claims based on legal agreements to gain moral support for their aggressions). Russia continues to find ways to drive wedges in Europe, getting involved in local, regional, national actions and elections, to pit West Europe against itself, and often against the US. For Russia, it doesn’t even matter if their efforts cause some party to lean towards Russia, it only matters, that Western parties, institutions etc, become divided against themselves. Again, that is why we keep coming back to NATO, EU, US, Transatlantic Unity, Cohesion and Coherence.
I think there is a couple of things to be worried about with this current situation. I mean that the Russians are going to be very happy if they cause President Poroshenko to extend martial law and cause internal domestic challenges in Ukraine, so that some Ukrainians can accuse Poroshenko of taking advantage of Martial Law and then to weaken Poroshenko’s position as a legitimate leader. Ironically, look how Russia has extended Putin’s time at the helm by using “internal lawfare” to justify his return to the presidency.
As far as the Sea of Azov is concerned, Russians will play the card that they are a victim and that the Azov, and waters around Crimea belong to totally to Russia. Of course, this is blatantly false.
Russia will continue efforts to destabilize the situation and in the specific region of the Azov, could arrange a Naval blockade. This would cripple Ukraine’s economic output from two key ports in the Azov – Mariupol and Berdiansk.
Russia could at some point seize these ports, saying that this is part of a Russian strategic logistical corridor from Donbas to Crimea.
So, the West must rapidly develop a response to these threats. The West has to deter Russia from doing anything like that. Again, red lines are important, and they need to be established and NATO needs to be prepared to back them up.
President Trump cancelled his G20 summit meeting with Putin. Was this a good idea?
Absolutely. Putin should not be treated to such an important engagement after such aggression, as if it is business as usual for Russia with the United States and frankly, with the West. The fact is, business has not been usual for years, and Russia must not be rewarded (by a meeting with Pres Trump), after such naked aggression in the Sea of Azov. If Russia seeks a meeting with the President, it should (1) immediately release the 24 Ukrainian sailors; (2) release the 3 Ukrainian ships, (3) apologize for the seizure of ships, ramming of a Ukrainian vessel and firing on Ukrainian vessels. Russia could then be seen as addressing the situation in a positive manner, and this might lead to a future meeting of Presidents Trump and Putin.
In summary I would like to underline these 5 key points:
This is not a time to call on “both sides” to de-escalate. There is a clear aggressor and a clear victim. Ukraine has the right to navigate international waters. Only one side needs to “de-escalate” – Russia. To introduce any notion of equivalency into this discussion is to play Putin's game.
This escalation by Russia is not against some far-off country about which we know nothing. The Sea of Azov is a test for the West – not just Ukraine.
Defending Ukraine at this point is a defense of the rules-based international system that protects the West. And that's worth defending.
CEPA pointed out in our Securing the Suwalki Corridor Report 3 key areas of focus to COHERENTLY deal with Russian aggression anywhere it is encountered. We must INCREASE: (1) our Speed of Recognition of Russian Aggression; (2) Speed of Decision in the face of Russian Aggression; and (3), Speed of Response/Reinforcement to Russian Aggression.
The Bottom Line: The West needs to take swift, unified, decisive action, including the US and NATO should speed up assessing the requirement for Permanent Presence of US and NATO forces in Poland, (and potentially in other locations on NATO’s Eastern Flank).