The Black Sea as a strategically important region

Geopolitics of the Black Sea

US and NATO need to develop effective strategies and policies to contain Russian ambitions in the Black Sea region, experts say&# 160;

The Black Sea region is one of the key regions for security in Europe and is becoming increasingly important in an era of great power competition. While Russia is strengthening its positions in the Black Sea, the United States and Europe are not paying enough attention to the region, experts from the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) say. They said this during a web discussion organized by the center on Thursday, June 4 «The strategic importance of the Black Sea region».

Former US Special Representative for Ukraine and Expert at the Center for European Policy Analysis, Ambassador Kurt Volcker (Kurt Volker) notes that three NATO allies in the Black Sea region – Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova – have territories occupied by Russia. However, this should not be an obstacle to their potential NATO membership. The inclusion of these three countries in the alliance would be an important step not only for the security of these countries themselves, but also for Europe as a whole..

«Russia has attacked and seized territory from countries that are not NATO members, and not from those who are. So if you think about deterrence, security and stability, then NATO membership is actually beneficial both for these countries and for Europe. It creates peace, not a situation or reasons for conflict.», – noted Kurt Volcker, who also served in the past as US Permanent Representative to NATO, during a web discussion.

He adds that the presence of occupied territories in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova is often cited as one of the reasons for the impossibility of these countries joining the North Atlantic bloc. But this only stimulates Russia’s aggressive behavior, says Kurt Volcker. In his opinion, joining NATO could take place upon the conclusion of a special agreement, according to which neither the military bloc nor the acceding countries would use force to return the occupied territories, but seek their reintegration and the restoration of territorial integrity by peaceful means..

Thus, Article 5 of the NATO Collective Protection Treaty would not apply to the occupied territories immediately after these countries joined the alliance, but only after their peaceful reintegration, the American ambassador explains.. «This is a way to deprive Russia of the ability to determine the fate of these countries.», – he adds.

Kurt Volcker also agreed with the moderator of the discussion. – former commander of the US Army in Europe, now an expert at the Center for European Policy Analysis, retired lieutenant general Ben Hodges (Ben Hodges) is that Western European countries such as Germany and France do not put enough pressure on Russia to implement «Minsk agreements», and the Black Sea region is not on their list of priorities. Instead of fighting back Moscow, Berlin and Paris often feel that «it is extremely important for their interests not to enter into confrontation with Russia». The Kremlin, for its part, takes advantage of this, Volcker notes..

Therefore, there is an urgent need for leadership from Washington, which would allow Europe and the United States to unite on these issues, and would strengthen the opposition to the Kremlin by European countries, the former senior US administration official concludes..

If the Center for European Policy Analysis in a number of its studies emphasizes the role of Romania in strengthening the southeastern flank of NATO, in particular the deployment there of the regional headquarters of the alliance, then the President of the Jamestown Foundation Glen Howard (Glen Howard, Jamestown Foundation) believes that the priority should be Ukraine, which is «the most vulnerable part of the Black Sea». He notes that the capacity of the Ukrainian fleet has been weakened by 80% since the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in 2014..

«We’re essentially talking about two Island class patrol boats (American Coast Guard boats that were transferred to Ukraine by the United States – V.E.) defending Odessa», – reminds the president of the Jamestown Foundation. He adds that there is no permanent presence of the US Navy in the Black Sea, which is limited by the provisions of the Montreux Convention. According to the provisions of the convention, affirming the sovereignty of Turkey over the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, warships of non-Black Sea states cannot stay in the Black Sea for more than 21 days..

«We continue to take it for granted that Ukraine has some ability to defend itself along its coastline, but this ability is virtually nonexistent.», – adds Glen Howard. He does not exclude the possibility that Russia may resort to aggression against Ukraine in the Kherson region, perhaps even this summer. This may be caused by a drought that has swept the region, the expert explains. Now a significant part of the water enters the Crimean peninsula through the North Crimean canal from the Kakhovka reservoir, located in the Kherson region of Ukraine.

The Black Sea as a strategically important region

«In this regard, we urgently need to develop a number of containment strategies in the Black Sea, which would be more focused on Ukraine.», – says the president of the Jamestown Foundation. He notes the need to provide support to strengthen the Ukrainian fleet, including providing Ukraine with American anti-ship missiles. «Harpoon».

Strengthening of Russia in the Black Sea poses a danger to other countries, since Crimea is «force projection platform» for Russia to the Mediterranean, Glen Howard also said. He notes the Kremlin’s recent intention to expand the naval base in Syrian Tartus, as well as the transfer of Russian MiG-29 fighters to Libya. According to the United States, the latter was done in order to support Russian mercenaries fighting against the internationally recognized Libyan government on the side of General Khalifa Haftar..

Rear Admiral of the United States Navy, retired and executive director of a Congressional-created special «Cyberspace Commission» Mark Montgomery (Mark Montgomery, Cyberspace Solarium Commission) argues that the Black Sea is just one area requiring the attention of the US Navy. Given the limited resources, the reallocation of forces in favor of this region and the fleet’s ability to react quickly to the situation should be assessed realistically. He recalled that, for example, the Pacific Fleet (area of ​​responsibility – Asia Pacific) and the US 5th Fleet (area of ​​responsibility – Persian Gulf and Western Indian Ocean) also suffer from resource constraints.

The Rear Admiral also considers it highly unlikely that the US naval forces will be directly involved in the escalation in the Black Sea. On the part of the Commander of the European Command of the US Armed Forces or the Commander of the Allied Forces of NATO in Europe, such a step will not be considered a justified risk, says Mark Montgomery..

In his opinion, it is necessary to focus on strengthening the forces of American allies and partners, as well as their joint operations. This could include surveillance support, including access to US systems or the acquisition of basic US systems, the provision of weapons, and training. It is necessary to form «reliable and comprehensive measures», which could contain potential Russian aggression in the Black Sea region, Rear Admiral notes.

The air force can play an important role in protecting the Black Sea, he adds. For example, a recent exercise over neutral Black Sea waters involving a B-1B US Navy bomber capable of carrying long-range anti-ship missiles serves as a signal to contain Russia. Nevertheless, Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery noted, a full-fledged US strategy to ensure the security of the Black Sea region has yet to be developed..

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