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Danger mines sign is pictured at an empty beach, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Odesa, Ukraine, March 26, 2022. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Danger mines sign is pictured at an empty beach, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, in Odesa, Ukraine, March 26, 2022. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

NATO Allies to Form Mine-Sweeping Force to Clear Black Sea Route

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October 10, 2023

(Bloomberg) —

Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria are discussing the creation of a joint force to clear any mines that drift into their waters from Russia’s war against Ukraine, according to three officials familiar with the talks. 

The three NATO members are still working out the details but may set up the unit as early as next month, according to two of the officials, who all asked not to be identified because the talks were private. 

With Russia’s attacks on Ukraine getting ever closer to NATO’s borders, the alliance is trying to balance its response to the incidents to avoid further escalation. From drone parts to at least a dozen mines carried by the currents, the war is threatening to encroach on the territory of the only three NATO countries with direct access to the Black Sea, a major trade route, forcing them to step up defensive measures.

While not a NATO operation as such, the joint force to clear sea mines would be the first major combined effort among allies in the Black Sea since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine. It comes at a time when the allies face increasingly provocative behavior by Russia in the region as well as incidents that appear to be accidental spillover. 

The new force is intended to be entirely peaceful and won’t bring any new NATO vessels to the sea, two of the officials said. One of the goals of the mission is to show the three countries are capable of addressing the problem themselves, one official said. 

Turkey’s government declined to comment. The defense ministries of Romania and Bulgaria didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. 

NATO allies have increased surveillance and reconnaissance in the region since the war started, but not maritime activity. Turkey has invoked an international agreement that allows passage of warships belonging only to Black Sea littoral states and not other countries, including NATO allies, to prevent escalation of the conflict.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has increasingly threatened the shipment of raw materials through the Black Sea. Both countries are major grain producers, although Russia has sought to cripple Ukraine’s exports, while a significant share of Russia’s oil passes through the shipping lanes. For more than two months this year, Russia hindered commercial traffic by announcing a military drill that would make parts of the Bulgarian and Turkish exclusive economic areas dangerous for navigation.  

–With assistance from Natalia Drozdiak.

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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