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By John Helmer, Moscow

The US Navy’s current Russia containment tactic in the Black Sea has been unable to negotiate refuelling from naval or civilian fuel tankers while under way at sea, and requires port calls for fuel every seven days. The Navy has announced that its missile cruiser, USS Vella Gulf, put into the Bulgarian port of Varna on May 30. The vessel entered the Black Sea, 180 nautical miles to the south, on May 23. The illustration from the bridge of the Vella Gulf as it approached Varna is a US Navy photograph by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Edward Guttierrez III For the delay of the Vella Gulf in reaching the Black Sea, click.

According to the US Navy press release, Vella Gulf’s presence in Bulgaria reaffirms the United States’ commitment to strengthening ties with NATO allies and partners, while working toward mutual goals of promoting peace and stability in the region. While in Bulgaria, the Navy says the Vella Gulf crew will participate “in community relations events at the Bulgarian Naval Academy and a local orphanage, visit the Bulgarian Naval Museum and tour the historic city of Varna.”

The vessel’s Black Sea cruise is limited by the Montreux Convention of 1936, the international treaty governing the sea and transit of warships through the Turkish straits, to a maximum of 21 days. As the Turkish monitor of the straits pointed out when the Vella Gulf sailed past Istanbul on May 23 (below),

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Source: http://turkishnavy.net/

“she can stay in the Black Sea till 14 June 2014.” In February, the Navy’s signals intelligence ship, the USS Mount Whitney, remained off the Russian coast near Sochi for the full 21-day limit, departing south only after Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovich had been overthrown and his replacement installed in Kiev; and after Russian forces had moved out of their Crimean bases to secure the peninsula from the north, and commenced the accession process.

The USS Taylor overstayed for 32 days in the Black Sea in February, reportedly because it had run aground at Samsun port, damaging its propulsion and rudder systems. On its second cruise in April and May, the Taylor was in the Black Sea for 19 days. In March the USS Truxtun was present for just 14 days, as was the USS Donald Cook for its April-May cruise. The ports selected for refuelling these vessels have been Samsun, Turkey; Constanta, Romania; and Batumi, Georgia. On the supply of bunker fuel at Batumi port, read this.

Depending on how fast she moves over how much distance – the Vella Gulf‘s motto is “Move Swiftly, Strike Vigorously” — has a maximum speed of about 33 knots (60 kmh) and a fuel capacity range of 7 days if she moves slowly. Its four marine gas turbine engines are of General Electric’s LM2500 type.

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Source: General Electric

Since the US Navy began deploying its warships in the Black Sea in February, the refuelling requirement – along with the special security and fuel quality measures associated with this – have shortened cruise range and required weekly stops. After the Taylor’s Montreux violation at Samsun three months ago, the Turkish Government appears reluctant to host fresh portcalls for refuelling, or charitable purposes.

jason_dunhamRussian ports are closed, while Odessa is off limits for the time being. The last US warship to visit Odessa was the USS Jason Dunham, a missile-battery destroyer, in July 2012, as part of Exercise Sea Breeze. According to the US Navy report from the Jason Dunham at the time, “Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Ronald Virgin said the people of Odessa were warm and hospitable to the Jason Dunham Sailors. ‘Everywhere we went, people were waving and smiling at us,’ said Virgin. ‘I had a great time in Ukraine, and can’t wait to go back.’”

A recent study of the annual Sea Breeze exercise by Alisa Moldavanova, a Ukrainian researcher at the University of Kansas and the US Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, has reported substantial local opposition to this US naval operation in Crimea and Odessa.

Moldavanova’s study also observed: “public perception of these exercises in Ukraine is generally very negative and quite polarized. In fact, several times since 1997 massive public protests against Sea Breeze led to the disruption of several exercises and created a generally unfavorable environment for multilateral collaboration (Sanders, 2007). The major reason is that the public tends to view Ukraine’s participation in Sea Breeze as part of a larger pro-NATO agenda, and Ukraine’s stronger affiliation with NATO is perceived very negatively by the majority of the Ukrainian population, as well as by the current parliamentary majority.”

The conclusion: “One lesson that could be drawn from this is that pursuing a one-sided foreign policy agenda in a geopolitically divided country like Ukraine might not be the right path. The lessons of Sea Breeze are applicable to other important foreign policy issues, including Ukraine’s relations with NATO. The example of Sea Breeze demonstrates that before the question of NATO membership reaches the point of a national referendum, a much more serious and long-term public information campaign needs to be conducted in Ukraine to raise the level of public awareness regarding NATO and collaborative international security in general.”

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