Aurel POPA, PhD
Abstract. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has generated widespread concern among US allies and partners about security in and around the Black Sea. While it remains uncertain how the conflict in Ukraine will end, its consequences will have long-term effects on regional security. In recent years, the Black Sea has become a key area of strategic conflict and regional security. Its importance is due to its strategic position, as well as the natural resources and critical trade routes that transit through it. With the intensification of Russia’s aggressive actions in recent years, concerns about the security of the Black Sea and its surrounding regions have grown and become a major security issue for NATO and its partners. NATO and its partners in the region have taken security measures to protect vulnerable areas and counter Russia’s aggressive actions. In this regard, the United States has announced a new Black Sea security plan, which includes increasing its military presence in the region and improving the defence capabilities of its partners in the region.
Keywords: Geopolitics, Influence, Black Sea, NATO, EU, American politics, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, war
The Black Sea region has become a central area in the strategic competition between Russia and the West, being of strategic importance due to its geographical position and natural resources. Moreover, this region is an important transit hub between Europe and Asia, being a crossroads between several regions: South-East Europe, the South Caucasus, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Western Balkans.
The Black Sea has been an important commercial and strategic hub for centuries, with several ancient civilisations, including the Greeks, Romans and Byzantines, establishing colonies along its shores. In recent years, the Black Sea region has become even more important due to the growing interest of regional and global powers in its energy resources. The Black Sea is believed to contain significant reserves of oil and gas, and several countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Romania and Turkey, are actively pursuing the development of these resources.
This area borders North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, as well as partner states Georgia and Ukraine and an increasingly aggressive and revisionist Russia. Although some Black Sea littoral states have gained membership of NATO and the European Union, the region has remained divided and affected by tensions between Russia and the West.
The wider region around the Black and Caspian Seas has so far played a role
as a corridor for trade, transport and energy routes between Asia and Europe. However, with Russia’s war against Ukraine and the blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports, this region is taking on greater geopolitical and geo-economic importance. Russia has already shifted the security balance in the Black Sea in its favour, annexing Crimea in 2014 and taking control of the Sea of Azov. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has turned the Black Sea into a hotspot that will preoccupy European politics for years to come.
The Black Sea region is also an important area for environmental protection, as the sea and its surrounding ecosystems provide a vital habitat for many species of wildlife and are an essential source of fresh water for the countries of the region. Conservation of the Black Sea region’s natural resources and ecosystems is essential for the well-being of local communities and the region as a whole, as well as for maintaining regional and global security.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Black Sea region and the wider region of the BSR, which also includes Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova, have been deeply fragmented. Tensions and strategic competition between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic West have exacerbated these problems, pushing the region into permanent conflict.
Maximilian Hess points out that the Black Sea region has witnessed ten armed conflicts on or near the coast in recent decades, including the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. These conflicts have directly affected the region’s civilian population and economy and have demonstrated the importance of the crisis in the region for global security1.
NATO AND EU STRIVE TOWARDS MARITIME SECURITY
In the context of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO and the United States have stepped up their involvement in the Black Sea region. In 2022, NATO decided to reset its long-term deterrence and defence posture in all areas – land, sea, air, cyber and space – and to increase support for Ukraine. NATO has also deployed four new multinational battle groups to the region, in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, to ensure security and stability in the area2.
At its June 2022 summit, NATO adopted a new strategic concept, identifying Russia as the most significant and direct threat to allies and updating its core tasks accordingly. NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană pointed out that there is widespread competition between revisionist and aggressive Russia and the democratic world, especially in the Black Sea area3.
America, along with its EU allies and partners, is helping to turn Russia’s war against Ukraine into a strategic failure. NATO and the European Union are united in opposing Russia and defending common values. Constraining Russia’s strategic eco-nomic sectors, including defence and aerospace, will support the effort to counter Russia’s attempts to weaken and destabilise sovereign nations and undermine multilateral institutions. Welcoming Finland4 and Sweden into NATO will further enhance security, resilience and collective resilience in the face of common threats from Russia, including asymmetric threats. More broadly, Putin’s war has profoundly diminished Russia’s standing with China and other Asian powers such as India and Japan. The historic global response to Russia’s war against Ukraine sends a resounding message that countries cannot enjoy the benefits of global integration by trampling on the basic principles of the UN Charter5.
Although the EU is an important market for energy resources in the region and a major player in economic development as well as in civil conflict management, it has not been a major player in terms of regional security. So far, the EU has neither shown the ambition nor created the institutional or material conditions to play a real role in the wider Black Sea and Caspian Sea region.
The EU aims to support the countries of the Black Sea region in their reform and development process, with a view to strengthening the rule of law, democratisation and improving living standards. The EU also pays particular attention to strengthening regional security, notably by promoting an integrated approach combining military, economic and human security6.
In addition, the EU has an interest in managing security risks in the region, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and cross-border crime. To this end, the EU works closely with partner countries in the Black Sea region, as well as with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and other regional organisations to promote stability and security in the area.
The EU also has a strong economic interest7 in the Black Sea region because of its development potential and its natural resources such as hydrocarbons and fisheries. Through its neighbourhood policy and partnerships with countries in the region, the EU aims to promote economic development and strengthen trade relations.
Overall, the EU’s geopolitical interest in the Black Sea is linked to its commit-ment to promoting stability, security and prosperity in its immediate neighbourhood, as well as to strengthening democratic values and respect for human rights.
In the context of the evolving security environment, characterised by the per-sistence of asymmetric and hybrid threats, increased Russian military activity in the region and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, EU – NATO cooperation is becoming increasingly important to strengthen the defence and security capacity of the region. Cooperation between the EU and NATO in the Black Sea is essential to address the security challenges in the area, as well as to support partner states in the region in their reform and modernisation efforts. In this respect, the importance of strengthening the defence and security capabilities of Ukraine, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, as well as supporting these states in their Euro-Atlantic integration process, is essential.
Another aspect is the strengthening of EU – NATO cooperation in the maritime domain8, in particular by developing capacities for surveillance and monitoring of maritime traffic, combating trafficking in human beings and cross-border crime and protecting critical infrastructure on the Black Sea coast9.
Europe will find it very difficult, if not impossible, to have a credible deterrent and geopolitical vision without a serious, viable and well-resourced “Two Seas Strategy”10. Moreover, a strategy that addresses the south-east of its line of contact with Russia is simply incomplete, leaving a key strategic flank to the vagaries of fate, the machinations of other actors and circumstances. Among other reasons, such a strategy is also necessary because Russia itself sees its strategic line stretching from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, where Russia still has a naval base at Tartus in Syria.
The Montreux Convention of 1936, which replaced the Treaty of Lausanne, effectively granted Turkey a favourable coastal status, including control and sovereignty over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits. This limited the type of military vessels that could transit the two straits and made it difficult for Europe to assert a presence in the Black Sea region.
France has been the key player in the Mediterranean, but Europe must now develop a plan for the Black Sea and expand its presence in the Mediterranean. Romania and Bulgaria, as NATO and EU members, offer a unique opportunity to establish a strong naval presence in the Black Sea. If the Montreux Convention remains unchanged, this would provide Europe with additional military capabilities and alternative military denial options.
It is important to note that a strong naval presence in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea is not only about security but also about economic opportunities. The region is home to some of the busiest shipping routes in the world and a strong naval presence will ensure the safety of these routes and the stability of the region. In addition, the development of submarine cables and pipelines in the region has created significant economic opportunities, and a robust naval presence will be essential to ensure their security.
The Mediterranean and the Black Sea are not just borders for Europe, but key strategic regions linking Europe to its energy suppliers, trading partners and the high seas. Developing a comprehensive and integrated strategy, including a robust naval presence, is essential to ensure Europe’s interests in the region and to guarantee its energy security, prosperity and stability. Time is of the essence, and Europe must act now to meet these challenges and seize the opportunities offered by the Medite-rranean and the Black Sea. Time is of the essence and Europe must act quickly to protect its interests in these two critical regions.
NATO’s northern flank, which includes the Baltic states and Poland, has tradi-tionally been considered one of the most vulnerable regions within the alliance. NATO has therefore made significant efforts to strengthen security in this area, starting with the implementation of a robust military presence through troop rotations, the establishment of military bases and the expansion of defensive capabilities, including missile defence. NATO has also expanded exercises and training activities in the region and strengthened cooperation with partners in the Baltic Sea area.
On the other hand, NATO’s south-eastern flank, which includes Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, has been considered less exposed to military threats from Russia and other regional actors, which has proved to be detrimental in the current context.
In recent years, multilateral initiatives and international bodies, such as NATO and the EU, have failed to ensure security and stability in the Black Sea area, due to the lack of coordinated cooperation between Member States and the specificity of the conflicts in the region. In this context, it is important to ask ourselves how we can address these problems in order to ensure security and the balance of power in the area.
From a diplomatic perspective, the US should focus its policy in the Black Sea region on Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. Romania is the best option for hosting all NATO forces in this area, and through the Danube – Black Sea canal network, it allows for the efficient transfer of forces, thus avoiding the limitations on naval movements imposed by the Montreux Convention.
Senators Mitt Romney and Jeanne Shaheen introduced the Black Sea Strategy bill last year11. It calls on the US government to create a comprehensive Black Sea strategy, including mechanisms for regional political, military and economic engage-ment and a clear plan to counter Russian aggression in the Black Sea. A coherent Black Sea strategy would recognize the US interest in the Black Sea as a gateway to the Eurasian heartland, identify as a goal the creation of a dominant maritime position in the Black Sea in cooperation with US allies and regional partners, recognize Ukraine’s role in a future Black Sea order, and create a roadmap for future strategic action in the Black Sea. A fit-for-purpose Black Sea strategy, more simply, would give US policy a coherence it currently lacks.
A stronger foreign policy towards the Black Sea region, including increased support between the US, NATO and the EU, and stronger economic ties between the US and the Black Sea region is a “yesterday’s need”.
Such a strategy would provide an opportunity to strengthen the US presence in the region and promote its interests more effectively. It would also allow for the creation of a network of alliances and partnerships to help ensure stability and security in the region. In addition, by developing a specific strategy for the Black Sea, the US would be able to demonstrate its commitment to its regional allies and give them a clear direction for joint action.
RUSSIA – A GORDIAN KNOT12 ABOUT TO BE UNTIED
Over the past decade, the Russian government has chosen to pursue an impe-rialist foreign policy with the aim of overthrowing key elements of the international order. This has culminated in a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in an attempt to overthrow its government and bring it under Russian control. But, this attack did not come out of the blue; it was preceded by Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, its military intervention in Syria, its longstanding efforts to destabilize its neighbors using intelligence and cyber capabilities, and its blatant attempts to undermine internal relations domestic democratic processes in countries in Europe, Central Asia, and around the world.
Domestically, the Russian government under President Putin is violating the human rights of its citizens, suppressing the opposition and shutting down the independent press. Russia now has a stagnant political system that does not respond to the needs of its people. Russia now poses an immediate and persistent threat to international peace and stability. This is not a fight between the West and Russia. It is about the fundamental principles of the UN Charter, to which Russia is a party, in particular respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and the prohibition against acquiring territory by war.
The war in Ukraine and the violent conflicts in other parts of the wider region of the BSR (Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Caspian Sea) are a direct result of Russia’s vindictive ambitions to regain influence in the region and protect its strategic interests13. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union exercised strong dominance over the countries in this area, but the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought this period of dominance to an end.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia lost much of its influence in the region and faced an increase in Western influence in the region. Russia has been concerned about the expansion of Euro-Atlantic institutions, such as NATO and the EU, into the region and the limitation of its influence to its northeast coast. In this context, Russia has sought to expand its own influence through instruments of national power, including involvement in ethno-territorial conflicts and support for separatism in the region.
Russia’s invasions of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 are a clear example of its ambitions to reduce US and NATO influence in the region and strengthen its sphere of “privileged interests”. At the same time, Russia has sought to support separatism and destabilise other countries in the region, including through cyber and propaganda. This aggressive approach by Russia has led to escalating conflicts and tensions in the region, as well as an increased US and NATO military presence in the area.
In this context, it is important for the US and the EU to strengthen their presence in the region through force deployments, arms exports, investment and diplomatic engagement. It is also important to further strengthen NATO’s Southeast front and to increase flexible cooperation among allies and partners, including with Ukraine. It is also important to seek a new balance with the region’s strongest ally, Turkey, and to support and secure projects to improve regional connectivity that bypass Russia.
The Black Sea is also important for Russia’s military operations in Syria and its ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean. Before Turkey closes the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Strait to warships in May 2022, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet provided most of the capacity for its Mediterranean fleet, which Moscow reconstituted in 2013 for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
During the conflict in Syria, Black Sea Fleet ships, together with foreign-flagged civilian vessels, transported troops and supplies from Novorossiysk through the straits to Russian bases in Tartus and Latakia. Russia has also used Black Sea Fleet ships to “show the flag” in the eastern Mediterranean, trying to deter NATO or other outside powers from intervening in Syria14.
These operations have made the Black Sea a vital strategic area for Russia, with significant implications for regional and global security. Russia is currently seeking permanent bases in Libya and Sudan, which could intensify tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and lead to increased confrontation between Russia and NATO.
In addition, Russia has recently strengthened relations with Egypt and Syria and has enhanced its presence in the region through economic investment and military agreements.
As in other regions, Russia exerts its influence in and around the Black Sea by various means. During the war in Ukraine, Russia took advantage of the situation to put pressure on the states of the South Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as on Turkey, which is a NATO ally. This pressure is aimed at limiting the economic, political and strategic cooperation of these states with Europe.
Russia is using military exercises, to close critical sea lanes for months, Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims and harassment of civilian vessels to leave southern Black Sea states vulnerable. These actions may prevent the development of new projects, such as the planned deep sea port at Anaklia, Georgia, or the development of oil and gas reserves in the exclusive economic zones of Turkey or Romania15 .
Russia also uses financial, informational and other tools to influence public opinion and political decision-making in the region. Weak governance, democratic regression and state capture in much of the region make the countries vulnerable to such actions by Russia. In this way, Russia can also strengthen its influence in this strategically important region.
ROMANIA – A POSSIBLE PLAYER IN THE SECURITY EQUATION
Romania is an important riparian state that is a member of NATO and the European Union and is striving to become a leader in the region.
Bucharest is pressing the United States to develop a Black Sea strategy in the context of the threat posed by Russia. Romania shares the US assessment of this threat and has identified the Republic of Moldova as being of “paramount strategic interest” and Russia as an “aggressive” threat. In addition, Romania wants to play a leading role on NATO’s south-eastern flank and provide humanitarian and military support to Ukraine, although investment in Romanian defence modernisation has been limited over the past decade.
Romania calls for a comprehensive approach to Moldova, covering military, economic, transport, energy, environmental and resilience issues. This could include cooperation in areas such as cyber security and energy defence, as well as improving transport and communication infrastructure between the two countries.
There is growing concern in Romania about Russia’s control over the Snake Island and the potential legal implications for the delimitation of the continental shelf and EEZ between Romania and Ukraine. After a long bilateral dispute, this issue was resolved in 2009, but possible Russian control over the island could create new legal uncertainty in this regard. This uncertainty could affect the exploitation of mineral and hydrocarbon resources in the area, with significant economic cones-quences for both countries. In addition, the Russian military presence in the Black Sea, including on the Snake Island, may affect the security of Romania and Ukraine, which could lead to new military conflicts.
In this context, Romanian officials are concerned about Russia’s strategic ambitions in the Black Sea and the wider region of the BSR in general. If these am-bitions are not defeated, Moscow will continue to regroup and rearm, which could lead to new attempts to take control of the Snake Island and other territories in the region. Romania and other NATO allies in the region are therefore stepping up their efforts to strengthen security and stability in the Black Sea in order to counter the Russian threat.
Over the years, Romania has called for a stronger NATO presence in the Black Sea area. However, the political geography of the region is complex and threat perceptions vary among NATO allies in the area. Bucharest is concerned about the presence of pro–Russian forces in its neighbourhood, such as Hungary and Serbia, and the vulnerability of Moldova on its north-eastern border. An additional concern is that Moldova used to be part of Romania and there are a significant number of people in both countries who want reunification. However, Moldova faces socio-economic challenges caused by war and an influx of refugees, which may affect Moldova’s security and stability.
Russia has about 1,400 soldiers in the Transnistrian region of Moldova, under the pretext of protecting ammunition depots, which contain about 20,000 tons of expired and still usable weapons. Russian officials have warned that any attack on these forces will be considered grounds for war. Bucharest fears any miscalculation or political or military destabilisation in Moldova, the Transnistrian region or unstable Gagauzia, where Russia is fuelling separatist sentiment.
Romanian officials are concerned about Russia’s presence in the Southeast and are frustrated that Western partners are not paying enough attention to the issue. The war in Georgia and Russia’s annexation of Crimea have been alarm bells for Bucharest and increased concerns about Russian aggression in the Black Sea region.
In this context, NATO’s tailored Forward Presence in Romania was perceived by some officials as smaller and less capable than the Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltics and Poland. This makes Romania more vulnerable to Russian aggression.
Despite these concerns, it is important to note that NATO has reaffirmed its full commitment to the security of Romania and its allies. NATO’s tailored forward presence in Romania was an important step in this direction, but more needs to be done to strengthen Romania’s capacity to deal with security threats in the Black Sea region. A united and coordinated approach is crucial to ensure security and stability in the Black Sea region.
In response to the increasing threats from Russia, which has violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by annexing Crimea and supporting pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, in 2015 Romania and Poland proposed a project called New Bucharest or B916. The initiative included Romania, Poland and seven other Central and Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The aim of this initiative was to strengthen cooperation between these countries and to enhance security in the Black Sea region by ensuring a military presence and a rapid response capability in case of threats.
This initiative was aimed at providing a regional format for NATO to address issues of importance to the alliance’s eastern flank, including those related to the Black Sea. However, despite this project, the southern component of the B9, i.e. Romania and Bulgaria, as well as the entire Black Sea area, did not receive the necessary attention from the alliance, compared to the northern component of the B9, which includes Poland and the Baltic states, which are more vocal in promoting their security interests. This imbalance needs to be addressed by NATO.
Romania does not have a well defined Maritime Policy and the approach of a Maritime Security Strategy is necessary in this context.
BULGARIA – CHANGE OF ATTITUDE
Despite the fact that other NMR states, such as Romania, have expressed concern about Russia’s revisionist threat and influence operations, Bulgaria has taken a different approach. Although the annexation of Crimea was a major event in the region and attracted the attention of many states, Bulgaria continued to maintain cordial relations and dependence on Russia. This can be explained by the shared history and culture of the two countries, but also by Russia’s political and economic influence in Bulgaria. In this context, Bulgaria has not had the same general awakening to the threat posed by Russia as other states in the region.
Thanks to the war in Ukraine, Bulgaria has become a more active and involved partner in NATO. Bulgaria now hosts one of the new NATO battlegroups and has taken steps to strengthen cooperation with its most important regional ally, Romania. Bulgaria has also supported NATO’s Multinational Division Southeast Command and Forward Presence, and hosting a NATO force integration unit and a centre of excellence are just a few examples of the country’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance. In addition, Bulgaria is involved in cross-border air policing and training missions at Novo Sela and has established a new Maritime Coordination Centre in Varna. If opposition from allies such as Turkey can be overcome, the centre could take over the coordination function from the Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) in Northwood, U.K. In the summer of 2022, the blockade of maritime communication lines prompted Bulgaria to step up its efforts to modernise its defences and show a new openness to potential cooperation with Turkey.
Despite NATO’s efforts to strengthen security and increase cooperation among its allies in Eastern Europe, there are still major challenges for Bulgaria in terms of political stability and national security. Russia has continued to try to maintain a strong influence in Bulgaria, which is perceived as an area of strategic interest for Moscow because of historical, cultural and economic ties.
However, experts who follow Bulgarian politics closely believe that the war in Ukraine has severely damaged Russia’s traditional channels of influence. Even those who still support cooperation with Russia need to reconsider their position; the Kremlin cannot keep them on its side.
TURKEY – A MAJOR PLAYER IN REGIONAL SECURITY
Turkey is an important element in the US and NATO strategy in the Black Sea region and the Middle East, with the second largest army in NATO17 and control of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits. In recent years, however, Turkey has positioned itself as an increasingly independent regional power, seeking economic opportunities and political support from Moscow, while committing itself to an independent foreign policy restricted to its own national interests.
With Russia increasing its military presence in the Black Sea and the surrounding region, Turkey faces security risks, such as the possibility of a missile launched from Crimea hitting Ankara within seconds. However, Turkey continues to remain cautious about direct confrontation with Russia, preferring to seek common ground with its NATO allies as it prepares for what is shaping up to be a long-running strategic contest.
Under the Montreux Convention, Turkey has the right to control the passage of warships through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits. The convention was signed in 1936 by Turkey and a number of naval powers, including the UK, France, Germany and Italy. It was negotiated following a dispute over control of the straits, which are important strategic crossing points between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
Although Turkey is a member of NATO, strict adherence to the Montreux Con-vention may create tensions with its other allies. For example, Greece and France have different objectives in the Black Sea region, and Turkey’s policy may be perceived as a threat to them. In addition, Turkey does not recognise the government of Cyprus and has blocked its accession to NATO, which has created additional tensions with its other allies.
However, Turkey considers strict compliance with the Montreux Convention as crucial for its national security and for maintaining its strategic autonomy. In Turkey’s view, the convention provides international recognition of its ownership of straits and allows it to control the passage of warships through them in time of war. Moreover, by maintaining a detente with Russia in the Black Sea region, Turkey can focus its efforts in other strategic areas, such as the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, where it has its own objectives.
In conclusion, Turkey’s position towards the Montreux Convention and towards the Black Sea region in general may create tensions with its other allies, but is crucial for maintaining its strategic autonomy and national security.
The United States and NATO will have to strike a delicate balance in encouraging Turkey to position itself more towards the future, without favouring President Erdogan’s efforts to undermine Western sanctions on Russia. In this way, Turkey will continue to remain an important element in NATO’s strategy, but will need to adapt its foreign policy to meet new challenges in the region.
With the outbreak of large-scale war in Ukraine, Turkey’s traditional balance between Russia and NATO has become more complex. However, the war has reinforced Ankara’s perception of its own importance to NATO18. Turkey’s main priority has been to avoid involvement in the conflict and to use its relations with both Moscow and Kiev to position itself as a mediator. A notable example of Turkey’s involvement was brokering and securing the grain export agreement from Ukrainian ports19. This agreement established a maritime coordination centre in Istanbul and the Turkish navy was tasked with its implementation. Turkey was also instrumental in negotiating a prisoner exchange in September 2022. However, Turkish officials often argue that their Western NATO allies do not sufficiently appreciate their support for Ukraine and Turkey’s wider diplomatic role. Ankara now recognises that the war has made its traditional preference for a condominium approach to security between the Black Sea littoral states impossible. Turkey can no longer continue to rely on such an approach given the current situation in the region. Turkey has also ceased to regard Russia as a reliable partner in the region because it has supported separatism in Cyprus and Georgia and annexed Crimea. As a result, Turkey has had to reconsider its position on regional security and redefine its relationship with Russia.
Finally, Turkey remains an important member of NATO and will continue its engagement with its NATO allies. However, Ankara will be more cautious about its relationship with Russia and will pay greater attention to regional security in the Black Sea. Although the current situation has made Turkey’s traditional balance between Russia and NATO more complex, Ankara will continue its efforts to promote stability and security in the region.
Ankara has been reluctant to articulate a clear vision of what might replace its traditional approach to Black Sea security. Turkey has maintained its status as a custodian of the straits, and this has led to opposition to a permanent NATO presence in the Black Sea. In addition, Ankara is concerned that other allies could push NATO into an unnecessary confrontational approach with Moscow and is promoting the idea of a negotiated solution to the war in Ukraine. However, Turkish officials believe Ankara can protect its own security interests in the Black Sea by maintaining a cooperative relationship with Moscow. Despite this, some of the other littoral states are circumspect about Turkey’s intentions and are reluctant to see Ankara taking greater responsibility for regional security outside the NATO framework.
Ankara has not yet proposed a concrete alternative to its traditional approach to Black Sea security. However, Turkish officials are aware that they need to find a solution that preserves the delicate balance between their cooperative relationship with Moscow and their membership of NATO. In addition, Turkey wants to ensure that it does not escalate the conflict with Moscow in the region and that it is able to protect its security interests in the Black Sea. At the same time, the littoral states are wary of accepting a stronger Turkish stance on regional security, given Turkish opposition to a permanent NATO presence in the Black Sea. Ankara therefore needs to balance these concerns and find an approach that can be accepted by all stakeholders in the region.
Ankara has recognised the importance of NATO as a cornerstone of its security, despite the fact that many members of the Turkish elite feel a growing anti-Western sentiment and are trying to balance between NATO and Russia. However, Russia’s militarization of Crimea and its attempts to disrupt communication lines in the Black Sea represent a significant challenge to Turkish interests and could have implications for Turkey’s long-term commitment to NATO. In this context, helping Ukraine emerge victorious from the conflict could strengthen pro-Western elements in the Turkish elite and improve relations between Washington and Ankara.
As Russia intensifies its campaign for dominance in the Black Sea, Georgia’s security is particularly affected, given the unstable political situation and state capture, which has already exacerbated existing vulnerabilities. Even though about one-fifth of Georgia’s territory and two-thirds of its coastline are under Russian occupation, Georgia is important in shaping regional security dynamics because it has a pro-European orientation, NATO partner status and a key strategic position on transit routes linking Europe to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. In this context, Georgia’s sovereignty and independence are important for its security.
NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept states that the security of countries aspiring to become members of the Alliance is closely linked to the security of NATO itself. The situation in Georgia is therefore a matter of concern for NATO and its member states20. Russia’s occupation of South Ossetia / Tskhinvali and Abkhazia in 2008 has complicated the Georgian government’s efforts to regain control over its entire territory and deepened Georgia’s political fragmentation. Since 2008, Russian forces have continued to break Georgian territory through the process of moving the de facto border lines further into Georgia proper21. This has put at risk the remaining Georgian ports in Batumi and Poti, as well as nearby road, rail and pipeline infrastructure. Russian control over Abkhazia constrains Georgia’s connectivity across the Black Sea and undermines its ability to develop its economy and ensure its energy security22.
Georgia has implemented a number of reforms, including extensive privatisation, reform of the security services and the fight against official corruption, with the aim of aligning with European values and norms. Through NATO’s Partnership for Peace and its own Integrated Partnership Action Plan, Georgia has developed strong insti-tutional relations with NATO23. Together with Montenegro, Georgia was one of two countries to adopt an annual national programme to pursue its NATO membership aspirations. This effort was recognised by NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Declaration, which stated that Georgia (and Ukraine) “will become” members of the alliance.
In recent years, Georgia has had close relations with the United States and NATO, particularly in terms of regional security and European integration. Recently, however, concerns about Georgia’s internal politics have intensified, particularly with regard to respect for democratic values and the rule of law.
This concern has been reflected in speeches by politicians and officials from the United States and Europe, who have expressed concerns about abuses of power, corrup–tion and other internal problems in Georgia. In this way, Georgia has been put under pressure to improve the internal situation and to honour its democratic commitments.
This pressure has left Georgia vulnerable and at risk of losing Western support. In addition, the fact that Georgia is not seen as a reliable partner because of internal problems may lead to a hedging strategy by the US and NATO instead of open and sincere support.
The conflict in Ukraine has also made Georgia feel even more vulnerable, and Georgian officials have been at pains to offer Russia no justification for further aggression. At the same time, Georgia has sought to strengthen its ties with the West and receive support from the United States and NATO in its efforts to protect its national security and territorial integrity24.
Currently, the war in Ukraine and Russia’s campaign to dominate the Black Sea pose a major threat to Georgia’s security and strategic orientation. Although Tbilisi tries to remain neutral and avoid involvement in the conflict, it relies on the safe conduct of its Black Sea transit business, which is threatened by the Russian military presence in the region.
In addition, Russia can use its influence over the Black Sea to limit Western power and influence in the region, including in Georgia and the South Caucasus region and Central Asia in general. In this context, it is essential for Georgia to work with its Western strategic partners to protect its interests and strengthen its regional security.
In conclusion, Georgia is in a vulnerable security position and is affected by instability in the region, including the war in Ukraine and Russia’s campaign to dominate the Black Sea. It is therefore important for Georgia to continue to strengthen its relations with its Western partners and to work together to protect its interests and secure a strong position in the region.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has generated widespread concern among US allies and partners about security in and around the Black Sea. While the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine remains uncertain, its consequences will have long-term effects on regional security.
In recent years, the Black Sea has become a key area of strategic conflict and regional security. Its importance is due to its strategic position, as well as to the natural resources and critical trade routes that transit through it. With the intensification of Russia’s aggressive actions in recent years, concerns about the security of the Black Sea and its surrounding regions have grown and become a major security issue for NATO and its partners.
NATO and its partners in the region have taken security measures to protect vulnerable areas and counter Russia’s aggressive actions. In this regard, the United States has announced a new Black Sea security plan, which includes increasing its military presence in the region and improving the defence capabilities of its partners in the region.
In conclusion, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has heightened concerns about the security of the Black Sea and its surrounding regions. In these circumstances, it is important that NATO and its partners continue to take steps to counter Russia’s aggressive actions and to strengthen regional security in the long term. In order to develop an effective strategy for the Black Sea region, it is necessary to focus on the maritime aspects of the region. In this regard, US military investment in Romanian ports would be essential, with a particular focus on the port of Constanta, but also on Danube ports such as Galati and Braila.
Allocating significant resources for the development of military forces in the Black Sea region would also be essential. Particular attention should be paid to anti-ship missile units, air defences and long-range artillery to ensure that the capability is in place to respond quickly and effectively to any Russian challenge. In addition, the US should develop its standing rotational forces in the Black Sea region, which would enhance its ability to conduct surveillance, patrol and response operations in case of need. A well-developed and implemented maritime strategy could be key to the security and stability of the Black Sea and the surrounding region.
The Montreux Convention, which regulates access of foreign warships to the Black Sea, imposes a number of restrictions in this respect. However, from a legal point of view, there is a possibility for the US and other NATO states to create a naval military base in Romania which can provide a perfect location in the port of Agigea where there is a terminal quay equipped with facilities belonging to CFR marfa and where the two ferries “Mangalia” and “Eforie” are in storage. With minimal investment this location offers the perfect place for the development of a NATO naval base.
There are at least two solutions to create this basis by circumventing the restrictions of the Montreux Convention:
The first can be achieved by the cession by NATO or coalition countries of at least two ships of the frigate or corvette type, three ships specialized in mine countermeasures and other Romanian ships that under Romanian flag can enter the Black Sea. The Romanian Naval Forces can ensure with minimum adaptation their operation and use by having crews operating fully interoperable ships of this class in the NATO system. By operating these ships under NATO command there will be no problems in forming even mixed crews.
Another possibility could be the transit of suitable small military vessels on the Danube. The minimum depths recorded along the Danube all the way to Romania are max 2.5 m and vary according to the season, the most favourable being spring when such values are not reached. However, there are not many such points and if desired they can be prepared by dredging. For example, Roman missile ships have a draught of 2.5 m and corvettes 3 m.
Other methods of passing through critical points such as reducing the amount of ammunition fuel and other cargo that can be replenished later can also be used.
To this end, NATO and the US could consider developing a force, comprising fast and effective missile vessels, specifically designed to counter large Russian platforms in the Black Sea that could pose a threat to NATO ships and interests in the region.
In addition, this approach would provide a solution to the restrictions imposed by the Montreux Convention, which limits access of foreign warships to the Black Sea. Instead of focusing on large warships, which could be restricted by the convention, the US and NATO states could use smaller, more manoeuvrable ships with considerable firepower.
Everything is possible if the interest and will of NATO and EU partners is directed towards Europe’s most vulnerable flank.
“Allies stand strong together in NATO in the face of the greatest security threat in a generation,” NATO, March 24, 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_193674.htm .
“Deepening relations with Georgia“, NATO, 30 May 2014.
“NATO Strategic Concept 2022”, NATO.
“EU Strategy for the Black Sea Region“
“Garibashvili Makes Controversial Remarks on Ukraine, Again“, Civil.ge, 3 April 2022.
“McCain Institute Unveils Tracker of Russian ‘Borderization’ in Georgia,” McCain Institute, October 16, 2019.
“Russian troops enter Georgian port“, Reuters, 11 August 2008. https://www.reuters.com/ article/uk-georgia-ossetia-poti/russian-troops-enter-georgian-port-georgian-pm-idUKLB2226261820080811 .
European Union Maritime Security Strategy, 24 June, 2014.
Ferhan Oral and Șafak Oğuz, “The Security of the Black Sea: The Struggle in the Black Sea and Turkey’s Policy in the Post-Cold War Era”, Karadeniz Araștırmaları 18, no. 69 (2021).
Igor Delanoë, “Russian Naval Forces in the War in Syria”, in Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned (Philadelphia, PA: FPRI, 2020), https://www.fpri.org /article/2020/09/about- the-book-russia-war-syria/ .
Jeffrey Mankoff, “Turkey’s balancing act on Ukraine is becoming more precarious,” Foreign Policy, March 10, 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/10/turkey-ukraine-russia-war-nato-erdogan/
Maximilian Hess and Maia Otarashvili, “Georgia’s doomed deep-sea port ambitions“, FPRI, Black Sea Strategy Papers, 2 October 2020.
Toucas, “The Geostrategic Importance of the Black Sea Region”.
EU-NATO Cooperation in the Black Sea: Keeping Pace with the Evolving Security Environment published on the NATO Review website in February 2022:
https://www.nato.int/docu/review /articles/2021/02/23/eu-nato-cooperation-in-the-black-sea-keeping-pace-with-the-evolving-security-environment/index.html .
US National Security Strategy, October 2022
https://civil.ge/ archives/483425; and Tim Hume, “Georgia Blocked Hundreds of Foreign Fighters from Joining the Defence of Ukraine,” VICE News, March 1, 2022.
Admiral (rtr) PhD Aurel Popa, President of the Maritime Security Forum, https://www.forumul securitatiimaritime.ro, firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Specifically, the Transnistrian conflict in Moldova, the war between Georgia and Abkhazia, the Georgian civil war, the Russian-Georgian war, the two Chechen wars, the Russian-Ukrainian wars of 2014 and 2022, and the first and second wars between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. See Maximilian Hess, “Welcome to the Black Sea Era of War,” Foreign Policy, April 25, 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/04/25/black-sea-war-russia-ukraine-turkey/. This report uses the term “wider Black Sea region” to refer to the sea itself, the six littoral states (Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine), plus neighbouring Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova.
2 “Allies stand strong together in NATO in the face of the greatest security threat in a generation,” NATO, March 24, 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_193674.htm.
3 Mircea Geoană, (speech delivered at the Black Sea Summit of the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), Constanta, Romania, 1 July 2022), https://www.nato.int/cps/en /natohq/news_197707.htm
4 Finland was admitted to NATO on 04.04.2023 as the 31st member state.
5 See US National Security Strategy – October 2022.
6 See “EU Strategy for the Black Sea Region” – a document published by the European Commission in 2020 describing the EU strategy for the Black Sea region and its medium and long-term objectives.
7 The article “EU’s Interest in the Black Sea Region and Beyond” published on the European Council on Foreign Relations website in January 2022 examines the EU’s strategic interests in the Black Sea region and its role in wider European security. The article argues that the Black Sea region is a key area for the EU due to its geographical position and strategic importance, both in terms of energy security and the transport of goods, as well as regional and global security. The article looks at security challenges in the region, including Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the Crimea region, as well as Turkey’s involvement in Libya and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The article also discusses the EU’s efforts to strengthen partnerships with Black Sea littoral states and to support democratic and economic reforms in these states. In addition, the article examines the prospects for EU – NATO cooperation in the Black Sea region and concludes that strengthening security and stability in this region is crucial for the security and prosperity of the EU and the wider Euro-Atlantic region: https://ecfr.eu/publication/eus-interest-in-the-black-sea-region-and-beyond/.
8 European Union Maritime Security Strategy, June 24, 2014.
9 See the article “EU-NATO Cooperation in the Black Sea: Keeping Pace with the Evolving Security Environment” published on the NATO Review website in February 2022: https://www.nato.int/ docu/review/articles/2021/02/23/eu-nato-cooperation-in-the-black-sea-keeping-pace-with-the-evolving-security-environment/index.html .
10 Mediterranean and Black Sea.
12 Gordian knot = Gordian knot, which no one could untie and which Alexander the Great cut with his sword. https://dexonline.ro/definitie/gordian, The Gordian knot is the expression used to describe an extremely complicated problem that apparently has no solution. https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Nodul_gordian .
13 At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the USSR alone maintained 60,000 troops and 835 ships (including 28 submarines) in the Black Sea Fleet. The Warsaw Pact also operated a total of 10 Black Sea naval bases in the USSR, Bulgaria and Romania. Ferhan Oral and Șafak Oğuz, “The Security of the Black Sea: The Struggle in the Black Sea and Turkey’s Policy in the Post-Cold War Era,“ Karadeniz Araștırmaları 18, no. 69 (2021): 1-16, https://www.proquest.com/openview/0a753 54b4b1ce33fac55062e36d08e4a/1?pq- origsite=gscholar&cbl=237821..
14 Igor Delanoë, “Russian Naval Forces in the War in Syria”, in Russia’s War in Syria: Assessing Russian Military Capabilities and Lessons Learned (Philadelphia, PA: FPRI, 2020), https://www.fpri.org /article/2020/09/about- the-book-russia-war-syria/.
15 Maximilian Hess and Maia Otarashvili, “Georgia’s doomed deep-sea port ambitions,” FPRI, Black Sea Strategy Papers, October 2, 2020, https://www.fpri.org/article/2020/10/georgias-doomed-deep–sea-port-ambitions-geopolitics-of-the-cancelled-anaklia-project/; and Murat Temizer, “Bakan Dönmez: Karadeniz’deki gas rezervi, konutların 30 yıl ihtiyacını karșılayacak büyüklükte” [Minister Dönmez: Volumes of Black Sea gas reserves will meet 30 years of household demand], Anadolu Ajansi, 8 March 2022, https://www.aa.com.tr/tr/ekonomi/ bakan-donmez-karadenizdeki-gas-reserves-konutlarin-30-yil-ihtiyacini-karsilayacak-buyuklukte/2527411.
16 https://www-gmfus-org.translate.goog/news/black-sea-security-and-development-need-regional-strategy?_x_tr_sl=en&_x_tr_tl=ro&_x_tr_hl=ro&_x_tr_pto=sc .
17 Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are NATO members. Ukraine and Georgia are NATO partners and aspiring members. The Republic of Moldova does not aspire to NATO membership, but cooperates with the alliance through the Partnership for Peace framework, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Trust Fund activities, an individual Partnership Action Plan and other activities. Armenia and Azerbaijan cooperate through the Partnership for Peace, Trust Fund activities and individual Partnership Action Plans. Both have also provided forces for NATO peacekeeping actions.
18 Jeffrey Mankoff, “Turkey’s balancing act on Ukraine is becoming more precarious,” Foreign Policy, March 10, 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/10/turkey-ukraine-russia-war-nato-erdogan/.
19 “Russian and Ukrainian officials sign grain export deal aimed at easing global crisis”, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, 22 July 2.
20 “NATO Strategic Concept 2022”, NATO.
21 “McCain Institute Unveils Tracker of Russian ‘Borderization’ in Georgia,” McCain Institute, October 16, 2019, https://www.mccaininstitute.org/resources/in-the-news/mccain-institute-unveils-tracker-of-russian- borderization-in-georgia/.
22 See, “Russian troops enter Georgian port”, Reuters, 11 August 2008, https://www.reuters.com/ article/uk-georgia-ossetia-poti/russian-troops-enter-georgian-port-georgian-pm-idUKLB22262 61820080811.
23 “Deepening relations with Georgia”, NATO, 30 May 2014, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq /topics_84060.htm .
24 “Garibashvili Makes Controversial Remarks on Ukraine, Again,” Civil.ge, April 3, 2022, https:// civil.ge/ archives/483425; and Tim Hume, “Georgia Blocked Hundreds of Foreign Fighters from Joining the Defence of Ukraine,” VICE News, March 1, 2022, https://www.vice.com/en/article/y 3vx7k/georgia-blocked-hundreds-of-foreign-fighters-from-joining-the-defence-of-ukraine.