The Black Sea Region Has Become The Place Of Collision Of Two World Outlooks: European And Neo-Soviet


INS Trishul (F43) is the second ship of the Talwar-class frigate of the Indian Navy.The Talwar class is a new class of frigates designed and built by Russia for the Indian Navy and for Russian Black Sea fleet too. The Talwar class guided missile frigates, also known as the Type 1135.6. Photo: Przemyslaw Gurgurewicz, pvo.guns.ru

Ukraine’s place and role
in the Black Sea region.
Expert opinions

Razumkov Centre’s Roundtable

Tengiz PKHALADZE,
Chairman, International Centre for Geopolitical Studies, Georgia

– What is your assessment of the current state of the geopolitical situation in the Black Sea Region and the perspectives for its future development (5-15 years)?

The 21st century has been making adjustments in the geopolitics, including the Black Sea region. The enlargement of the EU and NATO eastwards has created new realities and perspectives for further development of the region.

As early as the end of the 20th century, in 1999, at the Istanbul OSCE Summit, an absolutely new geopolitical picture of the Black Sea region was outlined.

According to the Outcome Documents, the Russian Federation undertook the obligations to withdraw its armed forces from the territories of Georgia and Moldova. This decision should have started the demilitarization of the region and have contributed to the settlement of existing conflicts that, in turn, would have promoted the regional cooperation.

The existing projects for partnership and cooperation (BSEC, TRACECA) were supplemented by new ones, which further developed into the Black Sea Synergy, the Eastern Partnership and other initiatives. At the same time, the countries in the region cooperate easier with the EU, NATO and avow their wish of integration in the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. All this has factually created prerequisites for the regional stability and cooperation development.

After the 1999 OSCE Summit, Boris Yeltsin retired and Vladimir Putin became Russian President. The new Russian leader claimed that disintegration of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century and set a goal of a step-by-step restoration of the glory and strength of the Soviet empire. Beginning from that period on, the geopolitical sextants which bring a part of the Black Sea region within Russia’s «privileged interests area» became clearer. Since then, the Russian foreign policy has been totally reoriented towards those geopolitical sextants and has applied all its resources for the restoration and reinforcement of its influence on the neighbouring countries. The Russian Federation repudiates Istanbul resolutions, and in spite of demilitarisation, builds up military presence in the Black Sea region.

Therefore, the Black Sea region instead of cooperation has been turned into the scene of geopolitical confrontation. Some experts divide the geopolitical players into two conditional groups: regional and non-regional. However, it is more reasonable to divide the players according to their interests.

In this case we will get the following classification:

  • The West – the USA, the EU;
  • Turkey;
  • The Russian Federation;
  • countries located between the West and the Russian Federation.

The Steregushchy class is the newest class of corvette in the Russian Navy. The first two were designated Project 2038.0 (or 20380) by the Russian Government; subsequent vessels were built to an improved design, Project 20385. At 2,200 tons it is large for a corvette and is designated as a frigate by NATO. Project 20382 "Tigr" is an export variant that has been sold to Indonesia and Algeria. Photo: tsushima.su

The interests of the West are demonstrated in the cooperation projects initiated by the USA and the EU in the Black Sea region (BSEC, TRACECA, Black Sea Synergy and other). These projects also involve Turkey which is one of the most interested and important players in the region. During the Cold War period, Turkey was the state that played the role of NATO outpost in the region. In the post-Iron Curtain period, Turkey significantly strengthened its position and turned itself into one of the main trade partners in the region. The Turkish government’s initiative «Zero problems with neighbours» provides a larger perspective of cooperation development.

The Russian Federation – after the World War II, the Black Sea was actually placed under the control of the Soviet empire. As the USSR successor, the Russian Federation is still enthralled by its old ambitions.

The whole economy of the Russian Federation depends on the export of its energy resources to Europe. Therefore, the alternative routes, the healthy competition environment and the market economy are all significant challenges for the archaic economic system of Russia. In addition, the alternative routes of energy supply act to diminish the effectiveness of Russia’s energy weapon and its opportunities for political blackmail.

In addition, the intensification of the Black Sea regional cooperation promotes the development of countries of the region and penetration of Western values.

The emergence of democratic and successful young states of the European type close to the Russian Federation endangers the neo-Soviet-clannish and corruptionauthoritarian Kremlin regime to which the talks with former colonies as equals is inadmissible, not to mention the establishment of the equal relations with those states.

Countries located between the West and the Russian Federation – here, first of all, we shall mention Ukraine and Georgia, because the foreign political orientation and future of other countries (Azerbaijan, Moldova, Armenia) rather depends on the political progress of Tbilisi and Kyiv. Both states are striving for the West. The wish of integration in the European Union is apparent in the public of both countries. Georgia is more active in its striving for NATO and the majority of its population supports the integration into this organisation. And finally, both countries have ambitions to create the firm guarantees of their own security, which will protect them against the forcible integration or pulling in the «sphere of privileged interests».

The current situation raises antagonistic interests, which make the region the scene for international policy and confrontation.

This reality was apparently manifested at the Astana OSCE summit, where the membercountries failed to pass the final resolution because of the unconstructive position of Russia. For this reason,

the current balance of forces in the Black Sea is temporary, and due to the conflict of interests, we may expect an upsetting of this tenuous balance in the future. Therefore, it is possible to assume several situational trends:

The Georgian Navy missile boat «Dioskuria». Photo: wikipedia.org

1. Maintenance of the status quo – the West and Russia continue cooperation in other spheres but fail to agree in respect of the Black Sea region. Such scenario will factually let Russia off the leash to punish the disobedient countries.

2. Neutrality status of the post-Soviet countries – this step, as made by Moldova some years ago, and in 2010 supported by Ukraine when Kyiv officially declared its non-bloc status. Currently, Russia’s efforts are aimed at the inducement of Georgia to take a similar step. But the declaration of neutrality did not solve the problem of Transdnistria and did not protect Moldova from the economic sanctions of Russia, even less so, through claiming neutrality from its neighbouring countries, Moscow does not even consider withdrawing its troops from the territories of Moldova, Ukraine or Georgia. Therefore, the non-bloc status with respect to Georgia is nothing more than a voluntary consent to be within the sphere of privileged interests of Russia.

3. Military confrontation – the military doctrine of the Russian Federation and its national security strategy unequivocally point to those regions, where Moscow anticipates possible threats and where it deems it admissible to use military force. In addition, if we take into consideration the current situation in the RF armed forces, we will see clearly that the armed forces are mainly concentrated not beyond the Urals but before the Urals, westwards and south-westwards.

After the military aggression and occupation of the Georgian territory in 2008, Russia has strengthened its own military presence in the Black Sea region: it signed the treaty with Ukraine on the prolongation of the stationing term of the Russian Black Sea naval forces in Crimea until 2042; the agreement on the prolongation of the stationing term of the Russian troops in Gyumri until 2044 is being negotiated with Armenia; on the occupied territories of Georgia (Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia) there is an accelerated reconstruction of existing, and construction of new military bases; and finally, also along this perimeter, there are S-300 type missiles being deployed. However, despite these developments in militarisation, Russia will hardly seek armed confrontation with the West. This arsenal is required for the «curbing» of disobedient neighbours, which does not exclude the execution of the so called «surgical strikes» and the initiation of military clashes similar to those of August 2008 on the territories of neighbouring countries.

4. As a result of a reset and involvement policy, Russia will free itself from the stereotypes of the Soviet epoque, the West-phobia and NATO-phobia will be replaced with the cooperation and partnership, and the «Elder Brother» complex will give way to the principle of equality of rights with its neighbours. In this case, Moscow will not pose a threat to the striving of the post-Soviet countries to the West and will take care to develop its relationship based on the freedom of choice and mutual respect instead of the «sphere of privileged interests» policy.

The Romanian Navy corvette «Amiral Petre Bărbuneanu». Photo from mapn.ro

The last variant of developments may seem idealistic at present, however, the best endeavours of the international commonwealth shall have exactly this trend.

Only by this scenario stability, cooperation and development may be brought to the Black Sea region which is one of the most significant and vulnerable segments of the common European security.

With respect to the last scenario, the following circumstances shall be taken into consideration. First, the West shall take a strong stand in connection with fulfilling undertaken international legal obligations with respect to Russia. Second, Russia shall receive the unambiguous «no» in its efforts to develop the policy of the «sphere of privileged interests» and to stop the striving of regional countries for the European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Third, in parallel to the trade and economic relations with Russia, the regional projects shall be developed, including those where participation of the Russian Federation is not foreseen.

Importantly, this concerns the energy projects which can deprive Russia of the opportunity to apply the energy weapon against the European and regional countries. Fourth, to stop the political attempts of Russia to conceive Europe in «new realities» and to become the chief architect of the new European security system. The system of European security, significantly, shall be founded on the protection of European and Western values. Given that the Russian Federation does not share these values, and does not observe them on its own territory, how can it perform this assignment on the common European space?!

Hence, the protection of values and wellbeing shall become the «red line» where the West shall hold on hard. Fifth, and finally, Moscow shall understand that the rapprochement with the West is the main guarantee of its security. Those global threats that the Russian Federation really faces may be overcome only by the international efforts.

The geopolitics of the 21st century implies the creation of the mutually beneficial cooperation model – not the division of the world into spheres of influence. The multi-polar world, which the Russian politicians are so fond to talk of, shall not imply the creation of positive and negative poles but the establishment of attraction. Russia has the adequate opportunities to become the centre of attraction if it succeeds to free itself from its Soviet stereotypes, learn how to consider the interests of neighbouring countries, establish the democratic and lawbased state, transparent and market economy.

In this case, the Black Sea region will transform into the international cooperation scene, where the relations of parties will be based on the principles of mutual respect and healthy competition.

The Ukrainian Navy frigate «Getman Sagaidachniy». Photo: vmsu.info

– What are the place and role of Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula in the security system of the Black Sea Region?

In 2010, Ukraine has declared the non-bloc status that has made certain adjustments in the geopolitics of Ukraine and the Black Sea region. This choice, as determined by Ukrainian politicians and experts, was conditioned by the idea that Ukraine does not see the safeguards of its own security in the reality of a bloc confrontation, which implies Russia’s opposition against NATO’s extension eastwards.

Almost at the same time, in 2010, Ukraine and Russia have signed a treaty on the prolongation of the stationing term of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea until 2042.

What is the connection between the non-bloc status of Ukraine and the stationing of RF Black Sea Fleet in the Crimea and what influence may have this event on the future security of the Black Sea region?

When speaking about security, particularly in the countries between the West and Russia, it is possible to delineate in just two words the main differences between the Western-democratic and Kremlin definitions of «security».

According to the Western values, security refers to a citizen’s (personal) security, including protection of his/her fundamental rights and freedoms; public security and national security. As we see, the centre of the system is held by an individual, human fundamental rights and freedoms, and the primary duty of the state is to protect the individual and the public. In the Kremlin (or neo-Soviet) system, the security concept refers to the sovereign’s security, the ruling elite’s security, and that of the ruling regime. «What is allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to a bull!» Hence, the supremacy of law, human rights and other «headaches» of democracy are absolutely strange under the Russian understanding.

Therefore, the Black Sea region has become the place of collision of these two world outlooks.

Consequently, when speaking about security, first of all, it is important to take into consideration the values on which it is based in the region. Thus, it is clear why NATO represents a threat for Russia and why Russia so ardently withstands the striving of post-Soviet countries for this alliance.

During the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, the Alliance made the paradoxical and fatal decision for the Black Sea region: Ukraine and Georgia were dismissed of MAP and, at the same time, the alliance fixed its political decision that Georgia and Ukraine will become NATO members.

This decision established a certain deadline for Russia, which understood that if it did not stop the striving of these two countries for NATO today, tomorrow it would be too late! The first object of attack became Georgia (August 2008) whereupon the urge of Tbilisi towards the Euro-Atlantic integration was much impeded.

The Bulgarian Navy corvette «Reshitelniy». Photo: pan.bg

At the same time, Russia implemented the second strategic task and took possession of Ochamchira water area for dislocation of a part of the Black Sea Fleet in case of necessity.

That was a good «lesson» for Kyiv, especially because by that period Moscow had already developed the so called «international strife», which could be turned into a new conflict centre.

Noteworthy is that for manipulation of the Crimean population Moscow uses just the same techniques which were used in Georgia once (Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia): issuing of passports, language, employment at military bases and social affairs mechanisms – the whole arsenal by which the «interethnic conflicts» were artificially created on the territory of Georgia.

Subject to these realities, the perspectives of gaining the long-term guarantees of security with the nonbloc status of Ukraine is questionable. The neutrality status shall rest on the various guarantees, including the guarantees of the opposing parties, and on the balance of their forces.

It is difficult to determine whether Ukraine’s neutrality status is adequate, given that the armed forces of another country are stationed in the Crimea and when, at the same time, a separatist attitude is supported there.

The Crimea is an important bridgehead. The unique location and role of this territory in the geopolitics of the Black Sea region can hardly be overestimated. «Those who hold the Crimea, hold the Black Sea» – this statement of Count Potemkin is as true today as it was in the 18th century. It is of particular importance for the Russian Federation to which the Crimea is one of the effective tools of establishment of control over not only the Black Sea but over Ukraine as well. This territory may become the key militaristic zone, or the key transport and trade, economic and tourist centre of the region. The future of this territory also depends on the West, on its decision to agree with Ukraine’s location within the military and political system of Russia, or to request from Russia the proper guarantees for Ukraine’s non-bloc status.

The Crimea may serve as the divide between two military-political centres (NATO and Russia) and one of the main bridgeheads for further militarisation of the Black Sea region. Alternatively, it may become a connector for international cooperation, which in the long-term can secure a peaceful and safe development of the region.

TCG Heybeliada (F-511) is the lead ship of the Ada class anti-submarine warfare corvettes. TCG Heybeliada was named after the Naval High School of the Turkish Navy located in Heybeliada island, Turkey. Designed, developed and built by the Istanbul Naval Shipyard as a part of the MİLGEM project, it was laid down on 22 January 2007, launched on 27 September 2008, and commissioned on 27 September 2011. Photo: wikipedia.org

Razumkov Centre. National Security and Defence journal. #4-5 (121-123), 2011. The Crimea: security and development

The roundtable by corresespondence was held from January 5 to March 23, 2011.

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