US-Russian naval rivalries heat up over Black, Caspian, Persian Gulf seas
DEBKAfile’s military sources report Washington is testing the Turkish government’s response to the permanent anchoring of US warships at either of the two Georgian ports of Poti or Batumi. This would be quid pro quo for Moscow’s interest in bases in Iranian Azerbaijan and the Persian Gulf.
Monday, Sept. 8, a NATO delegation was due in Georgia to evaluate damage to military structure following the five-day war with Russia last month. This is a further irritant for Moscow after the highly sophisticated American command vessel USS Mount Whitney docked in Poti Saturday.
Our sources report that the US anticipates a protracted period of tension with Russia for the following reasons:
1. US and NATO vessels will need safe coastal berths when the approaching winter storms strike the Black Sea. As time goes by, Turkey, which under international conventions controls the passage of naval vessels through the Dardanelles, will be under increasing pressure from Russia to block the waterway to NATO.
Already, Turkey fears it may lose its top trading partner, Russia. Since the outbreak of the Georgian crisis a month ago, Moscow has introduced new customs regulations which have backed up at checkpoints dozens of Turkish trucks carrying export goods. The predicted loss to Turkish firms is some $1 billion so far, a figure that would treble if Moscow continued its unacknowledged sanction up to the end of the year.
2. A permanent base in a Georgian port is seen by US strategists as the quickest way to show the flag for Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili without a frontal clash with Russia.
Washington sources argue that if Russia can maintain a large fleet base at the Crimean port of Sevastopol and a second at Abkhazia, there is no reason why America cannot maintain a permanent presence on the Black Sea too.
3. Washington is well aware of the talk in Moscow and Tehran in recent days about establishing Russian naval bases in Iran: Iranian Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea and an Iranian-held island in the Persian Gulf.
The latter, if Moscow and Tehran reached agreement, would terminate US naval control of the Persian Gulf waters opposite Iran forces and drastically upset the balance of strength in the region. Washington’s response to this talk is its bid for a permanent Black Sea base.
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