With the Baltic Sea set to become a “NATO lake”—now that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledged to unblock Sweden’s membership—eyes are turning toward the Black Sea, around which Russia has been trying to tighten its grip. To weaken that grip, and safeguard the eastern flank of NATO, the West must step up its efforts to equip both Ukraine and Turkey.
But Russia has been aggressive in the maritime domain since long before the first Russian missiles of Moscow’s full-scale invasion hit Ukrainian cities last year.
Back in 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a twelve-mile bridge—which was illegal in its violation of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty—across the Kerch Strait connecting Russia and Crimea, thus setting the stage for Russia’s creeping occupation of the Sea of Azov. Subsequent attacks on Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait were major violations of the universal principle of freedom of navigation. They became an early indication of Russia’s desire to cut Ukraine off from the seas and impose an economic blockade on its main seaports—and a warning that Putin may follow the same pattern in the Black Sea.