About eight years of regular rotations by Marines with the Black Sea Rotational Force, or BSRF, are coming to an end as the Corps instead expands its presence in the Arctic high north of Europe.
The likely last rotation of several hundred Marines with the BSRF to Romania pulled out of the country in September ― just as the Marine Corps prepared to kick off its first expanded presence in Norway.
The Corps has been sending a small detachment of Marines and sailors to the Black Sea region as part of the BSRF since 2010. Those forces have been focused on security cooperation exercises and training and advising partner nation forces from Ukraine to Georgia.
But the Corps now is focusing its attention on Europe’s northern flank, with a nearly doubled footprint of roughly 700 Marines engaging in extreme cold-weather training in Norway.
A conflict is unlikely, but were it to kick off, there are U.S. troops currently in Eastern Europe and Ukraine that could respond.
While the Corps shifts its forces to the tundra, the U.S. military commitment in Romania has increased, according to military officials. There will be an increased presence of U.S. joint-rotational forces in Romania, Beth E. Clemons, a spokeswoman with U.S. Army Europe, told Marine Corps Times.
“At the recommendation of the Romanian government, U.S. European Command has placed a highly trained and fully capable rotational combat force comprising U.S. Army soldiers, Navy sailors and Air Force airmen who are deployed in Romania, which is the most comprehensive and lethal force seen in the region in years,” she said.
Tensions in the region have come to a boil following a naval confrontation Sunday between Russian and Ukrainian naval vessels near the Kerch Strait, which separates the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.
Russia fired on three Ukrainian ships and seized the ships and crew.
The BBC reported that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called on NATO to send ships to the Sea of Azov.
NATO called on Russia to release the ships and crew, calling the attacks unjustified, in a press release Tuesday.
But the end of the BSRF rotations is not related to recent provocations between Russian and Ukrainian military forces. The Corps’ pull out of Romania in September was regularly scheduled, according to Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman with U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe & Africa.
“The U.S. remains committed to NATO security and has positioned a fully capable combat force of rotational forces in the Black Sea region. The U.S. Army soldiers, Navy sailors and Air Force airmen who are deployed in Romania, and other places in the Black Sea region, demonstrate our rock-solid commitment to defense of our alliance,” Rankine-Galloway told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller hinted about the end of the BSRF rotation this summer while speaking at the Naval War College when he told audience members that the several hundred Marines in Romania would comprise the expanded footprint in Norway.
On Oct. 1, the Corps announced the first expanded rotation of 700 Marines as 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, touched down in the Arctic country to begin cold weather training as part of Marine Rotational Force-Europe.
It’s the Corps fourth rotation to Norway. Previous Marine rotations to the region numbered only a few hundred.
"The United States has a long and close relationship with Norway on issues of defense and security. Since January 2017, Marines have been forward deployed on a rotational basis to Norway, strengthening those bonds by working hand-in-hand with the Norwegian military,” Rankine-Galloway said.
“The success of Marine Rotational Force – Europe has enabled Marines to receive world-class cold weather and mountain warfare training, participate in a host of valuable exercises, and solidify close working relationships with their Norwegian counterparts,” he said.
And while the Marines will not be operating in the Black Sea region as part of the BSRF, it doesn’t mean the Corps’ participation in the region or future training exercises are being vacated by the Marines entirely.
Marines will be in Romania this week for a ceremonial event to honor Romania’s national day, Rankine-Galloway said.