Kyiv calls for NATO to secure Black Sea, integrate Ukrainian defences
Reuters: NATO should play a bigger role in security in the Black Sea, and integrate Ukraine's air and missile defences with those of alliance members, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Thursday.
The Black Sea and its Ukrainian coast have been crucial theatres of war since Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year.
"The Black Sea is instrumental for making the whole of Europe peaceful and future-oriented," Kuleba, speaking via video link, told a Black Sea security conference in Romanian capital Bucharest.
"Sadly, it is also a showcase of how rapidly things can deteriorate if one neglects threats. It's time to turn the Black Sea into what the Baltic Sea has become, a sea of NATO."
The remarks were brushed aside in Moscow, where Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing: "The Black Sea can never be a NATO sea."
He added: "This is a shared sea, it must be a sea of cooperation, interaction and security for all its littoral states. And this security is indivisible."
Both Moscow and Kyiv rely on the sea for trade including supplying grain markets as two of the world's biggest food exporters. A Russian blockade threatened to cause a global food crisis last year until the United Nations and Turkey brokered an accord to keep ports open, with diplomacy ongoing to extend it.
"We need to address the common Russia problem together," Kuleba said. "For instance, I support the expert idea to integrate the air and missile defence systems of Ukraine with the ones of the Black and Baltic Sea NATO allies."
NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana did not directly comment on Kuleba's call, but said later that the alliance has continued to step up its presence in the Black Sea region.
A joint task force with the European Union has been established to deal with critical infrastructure, he said.
"I encourage the countries in the Black Sea region to adopt and be active in this new format because the Black Sea has infrastructure ... we need to protect," Geoana said.
Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu said a strong NATO foothold in the Black Sea going forward was a "must" and his country would continue working with NATO allies and develop a rotational presence in the Black Sea.
BLACK SEA FLEET
Russia's Black Sea fleet is based in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula Moscow seized and annexed in 2014, and capturing Ukraine's ports has been a major objective of Russia.
Since last year's invasion, Moscow has seized the entire coast of the Sea of Azov that opens into the Black Sea, but its advance along the Black Sea coast was halted about 130 km (80 miles) east of Ukraine's main port Odesa.
Kyiv has no comparable navy, but the impact of Russia's superiority at sea has been blunted since Ukraine sank the flagship Russian cruiser Moskva a year ago and recaptured Snake Island, a rocky outcrop near sea lanes to Odesa.
In the north of Europe, the security map around the Baltic Sea has been redrawn in the past year by Finland and Sweden's decision to apply to join NATO, leaving Russia soon to be the only coastal country outside the Western military alliance.
Applications by Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO would have the same impact on the Black Sea, where Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are already members.
Kuleba said an upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius would be an opportunity to move forward on Ukraine's long-sought NATO membership, "to show that the door is not only open but that there is a clear plan on when and how Ukraine will enter it."
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Kyiv needed guarantees that would make future Russian aggression impossible. "There is no alternative to Ukraine's accession to NATO," he said.
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