Why the Black Sea could make or break Russia’s sea power
NATO will hold a summit in Brussels on June 14, with Russia’s growing presence in the Mediterranean at the top of the agenda. As a precursor to the summit, NATO exercise Steadfast Defender 2021 began earlier this month off the coast of Portugal. The live maritime exercise includes the participation of 11 allied nations from North America and Europe, and will be led by Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, commander of the U.S. Second Fleet, who also heads Joint Forces Command from NATO in Norfolk.
“It’s a much more subtle fight – literally from the seabed to outer space in all areas – compared to transporting WWII goods and labor from North America to Europe, ”said Lewis, describing the exercise.
According to Lewis, there is an urgent need for a cohesive approach to transatlantic security that connects the two continents and extends to the Arctic. This need is caused by the capture of Crimea by Russia and its increasing aggressiveness since 2014. But why is Russia a concern for NATO generals when it comes to its maritime power in the Mediterranean region? To answer this question, we need to contextualize a century-old confrontation between the great European powers and Russia and explain why the Black Sea is one of Russia’s most important geopolitical strongholds.
This was the subject of a recent article by Paul Stronski, senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia program. Stronski argues that Russia will use its presence in the Black Sea to project its power and influence in the Mediterranean, protect its economic and trade ties with major European markets, and make southern Europe more dependent on Russian oil and gas. .
In addition, Russia’s only access to the Mediterranean is the Black Sea, which constitutes an important route for its military operations beyond the neighborhood as well as the means to export its hydrocarbons. However, the Mediterranean is currently dominated by NATO, forcing Russia to be more strategic in its bilateral action with key states in this region.
Specifically, in recent years, Russia has renewed its commitment to work with states such as Egypt, Israel, Cyprus and Libya, apparently to make political, economic and military inroads in the Mediterranean.
However, Turkey and Ukraine – both linked to NATO – present a real challenge to Russia’s ambitions. To a large extent, Turkey controls access to the Black Sea from the Mediterranean through two important choke points; Bosphorus and Dardanelles. On the other hand, following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Black Sea has become a point of maritime trouble between Russia and Ukraine. In 2018, Russia seized three Ukrainian military ships as they attempted to access the Black Sea via the Kerch Strait. This kind of pressure is seen by some analysts as a concerted Russian effort to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. So far, the annexation of Crimea has allowed Russia to gain dominance in the northern Black Sea.
In his article, Stronski further states that Moscow self-justifies annexing Crimea as necessary to prevent the strategic balance from shifting decisively in favor of NATO if Ukraine decides to join the Western Alliance. .
Besides its military strategy, Russia has an economic will to seek to dominate the Black Sea. By leveraging the southern port city of Novorossiysk, Russia hopes to consolidate its regional influence in landlocked Central Asia, which depends on the port for oil exports. The Black Sea is also an important transport artery for the Russian natural gas market, especially the TurkStream pipeline, which strengthens Russia’s position in European energy markets, particularly in southern Europe.
In view of the growing competition for power in the Black Sea, a recent strategy paper from the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) treats the Black Sea region as the center of four great forces: democracy in the west, l Russian military aggression in the north. , Chinese financial aggression in the east and instability in the Middle East in its south. It is literally a philosophical frontier between democracy and autocracy.
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.