NATO Sends Warships to Black Sea As Russia Warns Alliance Against Dangerous Expansion

The Kremlin has warned NATO against fast-tracking any new memberships as the transatlantic alliance deploys warships to the Black Sea, shadowed by Russian vessels.

Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Russia's Tass state news agency that Moscow has cautioned NATO against sudden expansion, specifically with regards to the small nation of Georgia on Russia's southern border.

While NATO was designed as a defensive organization, Moscow perceives the alliance—created to counter any Cold War threat from the Soviet Union—as an instrument to intimidate and restrict Russia.

As such, any suggestion of membership for Russia's neighbors or former satellites is regarded as an existential threat.

This is especially true in the case of Georgia, with whom Russia fought a brief war in 2008 over the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The conflict resulted in a conclusive victory for Russian-led forces, with hundreds killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Karasin told Tass that Moscow has "emphasized the danger of pushing through different kinds of ideas about Georgia's fast-track admittance into the alliance."

Russian officials have long expressed concern that Georgia could accede to full membership, fears that will re-surface ahead of the next NATO conference, which will take place in London in December. Moscow has previously warned membership for Georgia could spark a fresh conflict.

The regime is also worried about Ukraine's relationship with NATO, which has grown stronger since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Moscow-backed separatists subsequently rose up in the east of the country.

The alliance has been bullish in the face of the Kremlin's warnings. In March, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited Georgia and declared that the external nation has the right to dictate the organization's policy.

"We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia's NATO membership," he said. "We are not accepting that Russia or any other power can decide what members can do." Georgian Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze concurred, stressing "NATO membership is the choice of the Georgian people."

Moscow's latest warning comes as NATO ships arrive in the Black Sea—the body of water bordered by nations including Russia, Georgia and Ukraine—to take part in the Sea Breeze 2019 exercise.

Ukraine has filed multiple reports of Russian vessels and aircraft harassing its sailors in the Black Sea area. Russia is also still holding 24 Ukrainian servicemen who were detained off Crimea in November. As such, the area remains tense.

NATO maritime command described the operation as a "routine patrol to enhance interoperability with allies and build on cooperation with NATO partners."

Nonetheless, the Russian navy has deployed units of its Black Sea fleet to track the foreign vessels. The Russian National Defense Management Center also said that naval jets and coastal missile systems had been put on alert, Tass reported.

The Associated Press noted that more than 3,000 troops are taking part in Sea Breeze 2019, which will continue until July 12. U.S. sailors are among those involved.

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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney prepares to get underway in the Black Sea during exercise Sea Breeze 2019 in Odesa, Ukraine, on July 2, 2019. U.S. Navy/T. Logan Keown