The U.S. Navy has operated destroyers in the Black Sea fairly regularly to demonstrate forward presence, connect with Eastern European allies, and of course support deterrence missions. Yet recent U.S. Coast Guard operations in the region have generated a tense response from Russia.
Russia’s TASS news agency published a report stating that their country’s Black Sea Fleet monitored the movements of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, the USCGC Hamilton. Observing that the last time a boat such as this entered the Black Sea was in 2008, the TASS news report quotes Russian Foreign Ministry officials noting that the “presence of non-regional powers in the Black Sea does not facilitate regional stability.”
While Russian assets are likely to regularly monitor any U.S. and NATO activity in the Black Sea, there does appear to be some significance to the fact that the boat is a U.S. Coast Guard cutter.
“The Black Sea forces and means have begun monitoring the actions of USCGC Hamilton, which entered the Black Sea on April 27,” the TASS paper writes, quoting Russian National Defense Control Center.
The presence of a U.S. Coast Guard ship in the Black Sea, while seemingly unusual, is entirely aligned with the U.S. Navy’s strategic vision which encompasses a growing interoperable role for the U.S. Coast Guard as it supports the other maritime services.
“The Coast Guard’s mission profile makes it the preferred maritime security partner for many nations vulnerable to coercion. Integrating its unique authorities—law enforcement, fisheries protection, marine safety, and maritime security—with Navy and Marine Corps capabilities expands the options we provide to joint force commanders for cooperation and competition,” the Navy’s recently published Advantage at Sea strategy essay notes.
Any kind of strategic expansion of the U.S. Coast Guard, particularly as it pertains to increasing operational integration with Navy and Marine Corps technology, is likely a significant and impactful way the U.S. Navy can increase its presence and surveillance footprint. While perhaps U.S. Coast Guard ships, might be regarded as less provocative than sending in destroyers, the ships are increasingly networked to interoperate with U.S Navy platforms. This strategy is particularly evidenced through the Coast Guard’s current developmental new Off-Shore Patrol Cutter program.
Strategically, the Russian newspaper’s reference to a Black Sea Fleet able to “surveil” U.S. movements raises some interesting questions. Of course, the Russian Navy is considered somewhat of a serious threat, particularly given its reported 64 submarines. The service does only operate one aircraft carrier and a handful of Frigates and Destroyers, a reality which might suggest that any kind of credible Russian efforts to “deter” the U.S. and NATO in the Black Sea might be pursued with land forces. The Russian surface Navy, while both smaller and potentially greatly outgunned by its U.S. Navy rivals might be more inclined to conduct surveillance missions as a primary method of deterrence.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.