The Kremlin voiced regret (the word of the Russian government news agency TASS) over yesterday’s incident – that should be Incident – with the British guided-missile destroyer HMS Defender targeting its missiles at Crimea while in Russian territorial waters. One might try to imagine which word or words the White House and State Department – make that the Defense Department – would have employed under analogous conditions (a similar event off the coast of Florida, say) in lieu of regret.
The British warship, some 1,700 miles from home, is one of three from NATO nations in the Black Sea currently – the destroyer USS Laboon and the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen being the others – with a veritable armada ready to descend on the Black Sea on June 28 for the U.S.- and Ukraine-led 32-nation Sea Breeze exercise. Russia also regrets the upcoming naval maneuvers, stating they could give rise to “the risk of unintentional incidents.” A person might wonder how unintentional they would be.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov characterized yesterday’s action as a deliberate provocation that violated international law. His exact words are: “We consider that the British destroyer has carried out [a] provocation. Moreover, we regret [it] as this was [a] deliberate and prepared provocation.” Having spoken those words to the Russian press corps, his duty is done and Sea Breeze comes next – with a few provocations of its own most likely.
Yet Peskov went on. Not only does he regret yesterday’s provocation, he is concerned about it. You don’t want to contend with him or his boss when they’re concerned about something. In fact yesterday the Russian Air Force deployed a Sukhoi-24M bomber to drop bombs in the sea in front of the destroyer. The British Defense Ministry immediately denied that Russia had dropped bombs. One of the few times in history – perhaps the only one – in which the nation on the receiving end of a bombing claimed it didn’t happen.
When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan completes the Istanbul Canal connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara the real fun will begin. As Erdoğan frequently reminds the world, the new canal will not be subject to the terms and limitations of the 1936 Montreux Convention as is the Borporus and as such the U.S. and NATO can send as many warships to the Black Sea as they choose to. A person will be able to walk on them from one end of the Black Sea to the other without getting his feet wet.
When that occurs Russia will be concerned. It will express regret.