Strengthening of Russia's military presence in the Black Sea: What will be NATO's response
NATO noted a significant increase in Russia's military presence in the Black Sea, mainly due to the build-up of its forces in the occupied Crimea. A relevant statement was made by the Secretary-General of the Alliance, Jens Stoltenberg.
For Russia, the occupation of Crimea was an important element in strengthening its presence in the Black Sea region, which was needed not only to create a permanent threat to Ukraine, but also to spread its capacity beyond the borders of the Black Sea (the so-called "project power"). Without Crimea, there would be no Syria campaign and an increase in Russia's presence in the Mediterranean: the Crimean peninsula is an important logistic point in terms of amassing forces and means.
Crimea is also important for Russia from the point of view of the military technology introduced by the Russians – the creation of a barrier to access and maneuver. The air defense systems (S-300 and S-400), located across a large area, from Kaliningrad to Crimea, create "bubbles" of threat. So, the means Russia now placed in Crimea allow hindering NATO's capacities to deploy in the Black Sea.
Russia managed to focus NATO on the Baltics where the Alliance has now strengthened its presence. Certain processes are still ongoing. First of all, I mean the strengthening of NATO's presence in the three Baltic countries as well as in Poland. But at the same time, while the Alliance was preparing strategies for countering Russia in the Baltic region, it was too slow to react to the Black Sea issue.
For Russia, the occupation of Crimea was an important element in strengthening its presence in the Black Sea region, which was needed not only to create a permanent threat to Ukraine but also to extend its capacity beyond the borders of the Black Sea
What might be actual NATO steps to strengthen presence in the Black Sea? It's hard to say now. As we're seeing, Trump criticizes NATO Allies for not spending enough money on defense, while scarce funds they allocate, are not entirely spent for the purchase of new equipment, modernization of the armed forces, that is, the most important thing is to strengthen combat capability. This is especially true for the Black Sea countries, which cannot boast of economic power and are not able to spend the necessary amount of defense funds.
Perhaps the good idea is the cooperation of the NATO Allies and the countries that they have not yet become member states, namely, Ukraine and Georgia. Unfortunately, Ukraine was not voiced as a potential Ally, but there is an objective explanation. If we recall the latest NATO summit, the final documents on Georgia stated that this country would become a member state; it has made significant progress in modernizing its armed forces, bringing its troops and the state as a whole to NATO standards. As for Ukraine, only our desire to join NATO has been noted, but no progress is being made, and neither are there any guarantees that we will become a NATO Ally. This is an objective assessment of the processes taking place in both countries, and an indicator of how quickly the military is modernizing.
Of course, this is sad because Ukraine alone cannot oppose Russia. We are seeing how pompous is the coverage of the receipt of the two Island type vessels – it took four years to get them. But in reality, it does not radically change the picture, because, in fact, there is no major Navy fleet in Ukraine. We have only some remnants of our fleet left. Even if Ukraine managed to pull out its Black Sea Fleet from Crimea, it would still be unable to counter the more modern Russian Navy.
The only way out for Ukraine is to cooperate with Georgia, Romania, and Moldova. Thanks to our previous helmsmen, Moldova became a maritime state. There is a complicated situation there, but nevertheless, it is worth working with. Romania is our most trusted partner. Turkey is a good partner altogether, but there are some nuances, because it has a specific position: it has to remain friends with Putin, given his destructive role in Syria. Russia's economic conditions and military presence make Erdogan more friendly in communicating with Putin. But that does not mean that Erdogan is unreliable for NATO. He will try to balance, so as not to be a menace for Putin and at the same time not to be dropped out of NATO. Therefore, we are somewhat limited in what we can ask or expect from Turkey. This applies both to Ukraine, to Washington, and to the European Union. So Turkey is a rather complicated partner in the Black Sea.
The only way out for Ukraine is to co-operate with Georgia, Romania, and Moldova
Or perhaps the Black Sea could become the springboard for a new arms race, when NATO will strengthen its bases in the Black Sea region, and Russia will accordingly increase its prowess? In fact, I do hope that there emerges an arms race in the Black Sea, because it would mean that Russia would spend even more resources from its ever too modest budget. Unfortunately, global oil prices have grown a bit, which means that Russia will be able to earn a little more money, and, accordingly, it will have more opportunities for maneuver. But on the other hand, Russia has many other problems: the reduction of social spending, the "pension reform," and the impossibility for Moscow to fulfill its commitments to Crimea. The more deeply Russia is drawn into this arms race, the deeper it will drawn into Syria and Ukraine, the fewer resources it will have left, and the closer it will come to a crisis when the Russian Federation begins to either collapse, or, as the Soviet Union, to rapidly limit its presence and change its aggressive course.
NATO is not a centralized organization but it consists of countries that spend their own money on defense within the Alliance. And, of course, the limited capabilities of the Allies in the Black Sea region will have an impact on the situation.
Therefore, there is no resource for NATO's serious strengthening in the Black Sea. The funds are being spent in the northern direction, in the Baltic countries. So, most likely, there will be no real strengthening of positions in the Black Sea.
However, Ukraine needs to initiate various projects: we must not only build vessels at our factories - this is not enough to enhance the defense capability. We also need to consider the possibility of attracting foreign investment in our shipbuilding industry, purchase vessels in other countries, in particular, in the U.S., as well employ other types of financial instruments that can enable us in the short term to strengthen our fleet. This is necessary in order not to allow Russians doing what they do in the Sea of Azov and the blockade spreading to our Black Sea ports, otherwise there will be the collapse of our foreign trade. Ukraine needs to be more pro-active.
There is no resource for NATO's serious strengthening in the Black Sea. The funds are being spent in the northern direction, in the Baltic countries. So, most likely, there will be no real strengthening of positions in the Black Sea
Ukraine needd to strengthen its own positions and militarize. The thing is that we already have an imbalance of forces with Russia. That's if we compare what the Russians have in the occupied Crimea, in the occupied part of the Moldavian territory, Transnistria, and the occupied part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, newly created military bases along the border with Ukraine in Russia... In fact, we are squeezed by Russian military presence from three directions. Therefore, the militarization of Ukraine is a must. This is the only thing that can stop Russia and prevent its advance.
Oleksandr Khara is an expert on foreign and security policy at the "Maidan of Foreign Affairs" Foundation