USS Porter enters Black Sea to strengthen NATO defenses
By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 25, 2017
NAPLES, Italy — The USS Porter is training with the Romanian navy this week as part of its mission to augment security in the Black Sea region, where tensions remain high because of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
The Rota, Spain-based destroyer entered the Black Sea last week to beef up allied defenses and show the United States’ commitment to protecting waters that are of great economic and military importance, the Navy said.
U.S. warships have sporadically patrolled the Black Sea for decades, but Russia has viewed their presence as aggressive posturing since 2014, when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula and began backing separatist forces fighting in eastern Ukraine. The recent U.S. and European sanctions against Moscow have raised tensions throughout much of Eastern Europe.
Navy officials declined to say whether the ongoing conflict in Ukraine played a part in their sending the guided-missile destroyer to patrol the sea. The Porter is there to improve teamwork with allies Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine, the Navy said.
But speaking in Ukraine on Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that countering Russian aggression against Ukraine was a priority. Mattis condemned Russia’s seizure of Crimea, saying it and undermines the region’s stability.
“We support you in the face of threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity and international law,” Mattis said at a news conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at his side.
Mattis said Washington would not accept Russia’s takeover of Crimea, which breached international accords dating from the 1990s.
Russia has yet to comply with the Minsk cease-fire agreements, he said.
Russian leaders have expressed their displeasure at the U.S. naval presence in the Black Sea, especially for large-scale multinational exercises such as last month’s Sea Breeze.
But sending warships like the Porter into areas of heightened tensions is important for the United States to keep its military and diplomatic edge, said Jim Holmes, professor of strategy at the Navy War College.
“Think about the Russian narrative of events should we stop sending ships into the Black Sea,” Holmes said. “Moscow would claim it had driven us out, or at least erected such fearsome anti-access defenses that we’re afraid to go in.”