U.S., NATO Need to Turn Attention to Black Sea, European Policy Experts Say

September 13, 2022 8:42 PM
Amphibious warship RTS Olenegorsky Gornyak (012) entering the Black Sea on Feb. 9, 2022. Photo by Yörük Işık‏ used with permission

More strategic focus needs to be on the Black Sea as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, a panel of experts said during a Center for European Policy Analysis discussion Tuesday.

The U.S. and NATO’s lack of focus on the Black Sea allowed Russia to pursue aggressive goals, like its invasion into Ukraine, said Natia Seskuria, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

“I think despite the strategic importance of the Black Sea and three littoral states being part of NATO, members of NATO, NATO still does not have a strict coherent strategy for the region,” she said. “But the war in Ukraine has served almost sort of like a wake up call for the U.S. or NATO and we see that the process has started and there is a greater thinking, greater focus on the Black Sea region.”

The Center for European Policy Analysis will release a report later this month that looks at the Black Sea approximately six and a half months into the Russian invasion into Ukraine. The report will include recommendations for how the United States can approach the body of water as a NATO member.

It does not just fall on the U.S., Seskuria said, but also on Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria, all of which border the Black Sea. A shared regional leadership among the three countries would give NATO a better position when it comes to the Black Sea, she said.

“And one more important point is to continue the security assistance to countries, non-NATO countries, especially Georgia, Ukraine, that are facing existential threats and to make sure that NATO and the United States remain united when it comes to deterring Russia,” she said.
Russia’s initial strategy for the Black Sea was to block off Ukraine from the water, said Ivanna Kuz, program assistant for Transatlantic Defense and Security at CEPA. That would have given Russia the economic advantage and begin to turn the Black Sea into what one could consider a Russian lake, she said.

Instead, the Ukrainian forces pushed back on Russia, and besides one early amphibious assault, the Russians have not used their ships to try to land their forces near coastal cities.

Ukrainians were able to sink Russia’s Black Sea Fleet flagships RTS Moskva (121) and regain Snake Island, which helped prevent Russia from doing an amphibious assault on Odesa, she said. Attacking the Saky Airbase in Crimea also hurt the Russian Navy’s ability to attack other countries.

“So the Black Sea is key to Ukraine’s counter offensive in the South,” Kuz said. “It’s a central area that for Russia to gain more presence there and more control, it would threaten so many other parts of the world that the general public may not see that directly at first, but that would be the ultimate result.”

Since Moskva’s sinking, the Russian Navy has mostly been hiding behind Crimea, said Ben Hodges, senior advisor with Human Rights First. That affects Russia’s ability to control the body of water.

The Black Sea has always been important to Russia, said Steven Horrell, senior fellow for transatlantic defense and security at CEPA. It’ll stay that way regardless of the invasion’s outcome.

“That’s largely about the Black Sea region in the Russian mindset, and another strategic goal that spotlights the Black Sea for Russia, their desire to reclaim great power status,” Horrell said. “They’ve got this idea of a multipolar world, Russia and Eurasia, on par with the U.S. in the west and with China.”

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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