Russia objects to NATO naval operation expanding into Black Sea: defense minister

Russia has objected to NATO plans for expanding its Mediterranean Sea anti-terrorism operations into the Black Sea, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Thursday.

Ivanov told Russian news agencies in Brussels, where he was meeting with NATO defense ministers, that there was no reason for Operation Active Endeavor to begin patrolling the Black Sea.

The mission has monitored shipping in the Mediterranean and Straits of Gibraltar since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. NATO officials claim it has successfully deterred terrorists from carrying out attacks on shipping or using Mediterranean routes to transport materials for weapons.

About two dozen NATO ships are taking part in the operation; two Russian ships are also participating.

"We do not see how the operation mandate can spread into the Black Sea," Ivanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Russia and NATO often have uneasy relations, particularly with the admission of the former Soviet Baltic states into the alliance.

Ivanov also said Russia should pull its weaponry out of a separatist region of Trans-Dniester in eastern Moldova, but said that could not happen until a political solution to the dispute there was reached, Interfax and ITAR-Tass reported.

Trans-Dniester broke away in 1992 after a short war that left over 1,500 people dead. The Russian-speaking region is not recognized internationally, but receives strong support from Moscow. About 1,800 Russian troops remain in the region, despite a pledge by Moscow to withdraw them by 2003.

The separatist region has run its own affairs, becoming a haven for smuggling.

After a Moscow-sponsored peace plan for the province was rejected by the Moldovan government, Russian officials said the troops could remain in the province until 2020.

"It is a political dead end, and it is impossible to even talk about the withdrawal of weaponry," Ivanov was quoted as saying Thursday.


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