The Black Sea as a Zone of Accelerated Militarization

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Sergiu CEBAN
U.S. bill on security in the Black Sea region and Russia’s new foreign policy concept fix a long-term trend toward increased militarization and confrontation between NATO and Russia in the region
The U.S. is now taking on security in the Black Sea – this is how we can briefly describe the Black Sea Security Act of 2023 which a group of Republican and Democrat U.S. senators tabled last week. This document underscores that the Black Sea is critical to the national security of the United States, as well as European and global security, especially as Russia’s war against Ukraine continues. It envisions a more robust foreign policy in this geographic area, stronger economic ties with the countries in the region and increased assistance to Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova and Georgia, and more coordinated action with NATO and the European Union. One of the priorities is to launch intelligence systems for Russian operations and to set up a joint multinational headquarters in charge of all military activities of U.S. allies and partners in the Black Sea. The White House had plans to prepare such a strategy, with political and economic components, but not until June of this year, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. The need to speed up apparently stems from a recent incident involving Russian aviation that resulted in the crash of a U.S. Navy MQ-9 Reaper drone that was operating in international airspace over the Black Sea. Not only did this episode expose Washington’s limited symmetrical response capacities, but it also significantly increased the demand from allies to strengthen the NATO’s eastern front. Along with the partnership consolidation in the alliance itself, there is a rising demand for politico-military cooperation with non-members of the bloc. These are primarily Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. The need also exists to form a new local balance in relations with the most powerful ally in the region, Turkey, since regional states have long been concerned about its ambitions and foreign policy games. Despite Ankara’s solid military potential, the U.S. probably cannot fully rely on it right now because of its willfulness and unwillingness to align itself solely with NATO and Washington’s interests. Moreover, the long-term U.S. strategy is known to aim at turning the Black Sea into a “lake” of NATO. Turkey, for its part, believes that the sea is equally owned by all countries and seeks to ensure a balance between the Black Sea states. Therefore, the centerpiece of U.S. regional strategy is likely to be Romania, where the command center will probably be deployed. Compared to other countries, Romania is the most suitable candidate for this role, with its seaports and extensive system of Danube-Black Sea canals capable of enabling quick access to various regions of Europe by water routes while circumventing the Montreux Convention restrictions. As Antony Blinken said, Bucharest is already sharing ideas about the future action strategy in the Black Sea. To secure the status of a priority candidate, Romania is going to host the first Black Sea Security Conference in the very near future. By the way, it will also address the support for Moldova, including the accelerated creation of the EU civilian mission in our country. Meanwhile, Moscow, NATO’s key rival in the Black Sea region, took over the presidency of the UN Security Council. The day before, the Russian Foreign Ministry published an updated foreign policy concept for Russia, which predictably came after the annulment of Putin’s 2012 decree on measures to implement foreign policy. The latest amendments to this concept were apparently made following the Chinese leader’s recent visit to the Russian capital. At the global level, China and India are ranked as friendly countries, while the U.S. is designated as “the main source of anti-Russian policies, as well as risks to peace and human development.” Russia’s flagship idea in the 21st century is to turn Eurasia into a single continental space of peace, stability and prosperity. The Russian Federation self-defines itself as a stronghold of the “Russian world” and a unique country-civilization that maintains global balance. Without delving into the core of the Kremlin’s new vision of its role and place in the world, it is very important for us to clarify what it intends to do with regard to the post-Soviet space. For example, the concept states that Moscow plans to take a number of measures to prevent the emergence and reduce the level of security threats from neighboring territories and states. In addition, Russia wants to create new or refine existing mechanisms of regional security and crisis management in regions that are important to its interests, as well as increase its role in peacekeeping activities and strengthen its anti-crisis potential. As many experts have previously predicted, there is a risk that the Kremlin will begin to change its longstanding position on separate regions and frozen conflicts in the CIS. For us, the most alarming thing is that the new document does not provide any clarity about Moldovan-Russian relations and the Transdniestrian settlement. On the contrary, there is a strange clause about Moscow’s intent to support some unnamed allies and partners in “promoting common interests, ensuring their security and sustainable development, regardless of whether they are internationally recognized or have membership in international organizations. Not least, this week the Kremlin will hold a so-called grand meeting of the Security Council chaired by Vladimir Putin. This event seems to be related to the need to adopt concrete decisions, given the new foreign policy concept. In doing so, Moscow acts proactively and openly challenges both the security and territorial integrity of the post-Soviet states and the U.S. stance in the wider Black Sea region. Should the US Black Sea strategy come to life and given Russia’s new foreign policy model, it is clear that the post-Soviet space, especially the Black Sea area, will be intensively militarized to become an arena for US/NATO-Russia fierce confrontation in the years to come.