Black Sea Security Forum Day 1

The Black Sea Security Forum was held over two days in Odesa, on the Black Sea. It was a fascinating discussion of politics, military and economics. The topics on Day 1 were:

  • “Battleship: Ukraine Overpowers the Black Sea Fleet, Rewriting the Game’s Rules”
  • “Beyond the EU: How Can Ukraine Shape a Post-War Europe?”
  • “Another World: Why Ukraine  Is Not There Yet?”

Some of the panelists on Day 1 included:

  • Colonel Richard Kemp CBE, British infantry battalion commanding officer in Afghanistan
  • Mamuka Mamulashvil, Commander of the Georgian Legion, Armed Forces of Ukraine 
  • General Welsey Clark, former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO
  • Emanuelis Zingeris, Lithuanian MP, Chair of PACE Delegation of Lithuania 
  • Ian Bond, former British Ambassador to Latvia and Deputy Director, Center for European Reform 
  • Tony Abbott, 28th Prime Minister of Australia

The discussion of the Battle for the Black Sea was fascinating because basically Ukraine has no navy, yet they have sunk, damaged or driven off around a third of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. They have pioneered using numerous drones to attack and cripple huge ships. This has changed the game around naval warfare. If I was Taiwan I’d be building a crapload of drones! They have also had commando squads on jet skis. The result has been their naval blockade of Ukraine collapsed, trade could resume and most Russian Naval ships have retreated from Criteria to Russia

The drones are equipped with advanced GPS and cameras, and have a low radar signature that makes them hard to detect.

They only cost 60,000 Euros each and were soliciting for donations at the Forum to buy some more.

The Black Sea is a critically important area for both trade and security. It used to be very open, but since 2014 it had become what one called a “Russian Lake”. It connects the Balkans, Middle East and North Africa. It is a major transit route for energy and has enormous oil resources.

General Clark was the most compelling speaker. He said that as Russia invaded Ukraine, Ukraine is entitled to do unlimited warfare in return, and that basically any military target in Russia is okay to strike – such as power stations. Having Western countries set limits on where there weapons can be used just encourages Putin.

He told the story of a discussion with Vietnamese generals about the massive US military bombing campaigns that were designed to intimidate them into surrender, but deliberately tried to minimise impact. It was meant to send a signal about how much destruction they could cause. The Vietnamese replied that they didn’t see the bombing as signals, just as ineffective!

He warned that a negotiated outcome is what Putin probably wants, but any new borders based on this will be temporary. If Putin gains five provinces as a reward for attacking, then of course he will attack again in future.

This was a common theme by almost every speaker there from other neighbouring countries. None of them see this conflict as being about Ukraine. It iOS about Georgia, Moldova, the Baltic States etc. These speakers were not academics or pundits, but senior MPs from their countries and to be blunt all of them are preparing for war. They are not increasing defence spending as a signal, they are doing it so they can defend themselves when Putin targets them.

General Clark talked about how you often have failure before success. In 1942 6,000 mainly Canadian infantry tried to capture the Port of Dieppe for a day, as a trial for a landing. It was a disaster and in six hours over half the men were killed, captured or wounded. Yet two years later D-Day was a huge success.

The issue of Putin threatening nuclear attack if some red line is crossed was discussed and it was pointed out Ukraine had already broken a dozen of his so called red lines. He often threatens a nuclear attack but has a very strong disincentive to use them.

Tony Abbott asked what should be response to any use of nuclear weapons by Russia? He asked if it should be Ukraine joins NATO immediately? Colonel Kemp has perhaps the most likely answer which is NATO would immediately destroy the Black Sea Fleet.

Tony Abbott also talked about his 2014 exchange with Putin after Russia downed a flight with many Australians aboard. He asked Putin for an apology to dead Australians and Putin tried to blame it on Ukraine and said the country had no right to exist anyway.

About said that everything for Putin is an incremental step to recreating the Russia of Peter the Great. If he wins in Ukraine then it shifts to Georgia, Moldova, the Stans, Baltic states and even Poland. He said we must get used to the prospect of war if we are to avoid it and need cultural rearmament as well as military.

Globally he said China wants to restore the Middle Kingdom and Iran wishes to unify the Muslim world under them. Ukraine is first fight in a global struggle we wish to avoid but the dictators want to have. They have a no limits partnership.

He concluded that this is about the right of people everywhere to choose their own destiny. The best hope of global peace is that Ukraine doesn’t fall.

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