Russia is threatening to provoke a direct war with NATO if it detains ships in international waters in the Black Sea, former alliance chief James Stavridis told Politico.
Stavridis, a retired U.S. admiral who commanded alliance forces from 2009-2013, said actions such as the inspection of a Turkish dry cargo ship on Sunday could force Kyiv’s partners to intervene to prevent Ukraine’s grain export-dependent economy from being strangled.
“Russia’s actions in international waters in the Black Sea pose a real risk of escalation to a naval war between NATO and Russian Federation”, Stavridis said. NATO, he said, “is not providing all the arms and money to Ukraine to watch Russia strangle its economy with an illegal blockade”.
NATO could support the humanitarian corridor by protecting the ships with its combat aviation and possibly with an escort of warships, Stavridis did not rule out.
The U.S. is already considering all possible options, including military solutions, to protect ships in the Black Sea, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing U.S. officials. According to WSJ sources, the USA is holding talks with Turkey and Ukraine’s neighbors to discuss new routes for exporting Ukrainian grain.
In particular, a plan is being prepared to increase the capacity of the Romanian port of Constanta: currently, 2m tons of Ukrainian grain products pass through it every month, and after the expansion of infrastructure and additional personnel, the volumes can be increased to 4m tons.
The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that it had stopped the Palau-flagged dry cargo ship Şükrü Okan for inspection. Armed marines boarded the Turkish vessel and inspected it in the vicinity of Istanbul, 60 kilometers off the coast of NATO member Turkey.
On Thursday, the administration of Turkish President Recep Erdogan warned Moscow about the risk of increased tensions in the Black Sea due to the inspection of the dry cargo ship.