Geopolitics of the Black Sea
Black Sea region needs NATO attention
Russia’s influence in the region continues to grow, but the North Atlantic Alliance is not paying enough attention to the security of the Black Sea, experts say.
Since 2014, NATO has taken a number of steps to strengthen its eastern borders, but the alliance has paid less attention to its southeastern flank, in particular the Black Sea region. Meanwhile, Russia continues to build up its military power in the Black Sea and to increase political and economic pressure on a number of countries in the Black Sea basin. The issues of strategic adaptation to new threats and challenges in the region are increasingly being discussed among the expert community of Western countries.
Security issues in the Black Sea region, the positions of NATO member and partner countries and the strategic goals of the alliance became the theme and organized on Thursday, June 18 by the Middle East Institute, the web event “Problematic Waters: Changing Security Environment in the Black Sea”.
According to an analyst at the RAND Research Center Stephen Flanagan (Stephen J. Flanagan, RAND Corporation) The Black Sea is a strategically important region that plays an important role in the competition between Russia and the West for the future of Europe.
In addition to direct military aggression against Georgia and Ukraine, Moscow continues to use military and non-military means to advance its interests: “The Kremlin seeks to create a privileged position, strengthen its sphere of influence in the region through the use of information, diplomatic, economic, hidden energy and military instruments. He uses these tools to foster a split among NATO allies and prevent the integration of the alliance’s partner countries into the European Atlantic structures. “.
The expert adds that in the hybrid war, the Kremlin also uses intelligence services, military personnel and mercenaries. All these operations are supported by the strengthening of traditional military means, in particular by building up military forces in Crimea, modernizing the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla, and increasing the number of ground forces in the Russian Southern Military District. This allows Russia not only to increase its influence on the Black Sea countries, but also to project power outside the region, notes Stephen Flanagan..
Despite this, the Black Sea region has not yet received due attention from NATO and other European countries, the expert emphasizes. The North Atlantic Alliance should develop its own strategy in relation to the region, taking into account the differences in interests and approaches to Russia among the Black Sea countries.
Thus, the three countries of the NATO member region – Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey – do not pursue a single policy towards Russia. While Romania is worried about Russian influence and deepens military cooperation with NATO, the Bulgarian government is balancing between the West and Russia, which makes it more susceptible to political and economic pressure from Moscow.
Turkish warship NATO TCG Turgutreis in the Black Sea
Turkey remains a challenging ally for NATO, balancing its responsibilities to the alliance and strengthening relations with Russia. Among the five non-NATO countries in the Black Sea region, only two – Ukraine and Georgia – are actively advocating rapprochement with the alliance. Moldova and Azerbaijan continue to maneuver, while Armenia depends on Moscow’s security patronage and its military cooperation with the West is limited, the analyst said..
“US-NATO engagement must take into account this asymmetry of interests, the different military capabilities of countries, their risk tolerance, as well as Russia’s red lines, before embarking on a new strategy,” concludes Stephen Flanagan. He adds that supporting a pro-Western course in these countries, developing bilateral partnerships and a number of security dialogues should be part of the strategy..
Senior Lecturer, Institute of Security Management Thomas-Durell Young (Thomas-Durell Young, Institute for Security Governance) notes that in order to improve the security of the Black Sea, the Alliance members should take a number of steps. Among them – the need to further increase awareness of the situation in the Black Sea, modernization and expansion of air surveillance and radar networks, including over the entire maritime territory, as well as strengthening the military readiness of allies and partners of the alliance.
The expert also expresses concern about limited funding for the armed forces of the countries of the region, insufficient modernization of military equipment and the infrequent holding of joint military exercises. While the navy spends half the time at sea than is required for high alert, the air forces of some countries, in particular Bulgaria, remain dependent on Russian aircraft, he recalls..
“At the defense agency level, I would say that common weaknesses or weaknesses are the inability to develop, let alone implement, viable defense plans,” says Thomas-Durell Young, referring to the long-standing problems of several countries in the region. “For example, you buy a plane, but you don’t fund the Air Force enough to have enough pilots with all the necessary certifications to actually use the available capabilities.”.
At the same time, the expert believes that the Black Sea countries and NATO should carefully approach the development of their military capabilities, in particular in terms of traditional weapons, so as not to provoke Russia. Allies should also explore the potential of new technologies and techniques such as cyber tools and drones..
Regarding why NATO and the United States did not pay enough attention to the Black Sea region, if it is strategically important for the security of the alliance and its partners, experts noted that the reason for this may be the lack of resources of the alliance and the presence of other priorities. In particular, the alliance has so far paid more attention to the security of the Baltic Sea and Eastern Europe..
“Some people thought the region would receive increased attention following the Kerch Strait incident,” says Steven Flanagan, adding that the ensuing scandal over President Trump’s impeachment and delayed military aid to Ukraine had a negative impact on US attention to the region. “But in general, I think that NATO and other allies are becoming more aware of the importance of the region. Unfortunately, some kind of incident that we can see may be the catalyst here. I think the alliance ignores the region at its own peril and risk. “.
Thomas-Durell Young adds that Russia is more likely to take a number of destabilizing steps in the Black Sea than in the Baltic Sea..
It became known this week that the US State Department has approved the sale of 16 Mark VI patrol boats to Ukraine for a total of $ 600 million. Earlier, Kiev turned to Washington with a request to purchase these boats, as well as special weapons and equipment for them. The State Department noted that the supply of patrol boats to Ukraine “will not change the main military balance of power in the region.” Thomas-Durell Young also believes that this step will not affect the overall security of the Black Sea region..
Journalist «Voices of America». Prior to that, she worked for international non-governmental organizations in Washington and London, in the Russian-language version of the Estonian daily newspaper “Postimees” and as a spokesman for the Estonian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Interests – international relations, politics, economics