Russian security frame for Black sea region


The Russian view on security in the Black Sea region is connected to several factors:

- historical geopolitical continuity;

- the intentions and actions of key opponents and other actors in the region;

- terrorist and cross-border criminal activity;

- new, emergent threats ranging from the staging of coups called “color revolutions” to manipulated migration flows.

These factors are interrelated. Geopolitical continuity is expressed in Russia’s clear position on NATO and US clients and the precedents of the Cold War in the region -such as the placement of American nuclear missiles in Turkey which provoked the Cuban Missile Crisis; provocations at the borders of the Soviet Union; and the understanding of this space as a high-risk zone due to its geopolitical characteristics.

This region is Rimland in direct contact with the Heartland of Eurasia, a point which Zbigniew Brzezinski included in the arc of instability.

The Black Sea basin alone has limited possibilities. From the standpoint of military strategy, this is a closed space easily controlled by modern means of detection and elimination. From the standpoint of geo-economics, the Black Sea region’s efficacy is also not high. As a result, this region is usually considered within broader frameworks. For example, as the Azov-Black Sea region, which is a framework characteristic for Russia’s domestic policy, or the broader concept of a triangle of three seas - the Black, Caspian, and Mediterranean - or as a two-seas project, a corridor between the Black and Baltic Seas which coincides with the Eastern Partnership project and which Russia associates with a potential new cordon sanitaire.

Therefore, any strategies and actions of any powers in the region, especially external ones, force Moscow to adapt its approaches when it comes to political projects or applying different preemptive strategies to current conditions when a threat to Russia’s national interests arises. Following the agreement with Syria on a Russian military presence, these national interests came to automatically include the Black Sea basin as a critically important zone.

It should be noted that, in this context, it is important to understand the intentions of all sides. But the West deliberately distorts perceptions of the situation in order to portray events in the perspective that meets the conventional positions of their political elites and interests. It is well known that an erroneous understanding of an opponent’s strategy leads to unpleasant surprises and unexpected developments.

An example of such are Russia’s actions and the Eurasian Economic Union project. Moscow has tried to create a security belt around itself in a broad sense, by economically subsidizing states in the post-Soviet space on its borders, and by proposing the establishment of clear mechanisms for economic cooperation. But these efforts have been incorrectly interpreted and spun for Western public opinion.

The creation of a security belt implicitly entails strengthening the stability of neighboring countries both in political and economic terms.

For this reason, Russia supported Ukraine during Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency. But a wrong interpretation by the West, largely involving the United States, led to destabilization and a coup d’etat in February 2014.

The next episode was a chain reaction. In order to prevent mass killings like happened in Kiev in February 2014 or in Odessa in May 2014, as well as later in the South-East of Ukraine, Russia supported and recognized the referendum in Crimea.

NATO’s Operation Atlantic Resolve has been officially declared to be a counteraction against Russia. This has compelled Moscow to adopt its own measures leading to a change in the military balance. Meanwhile, military exercises within the Union State of Russia and Belarus, as well as maneuvers within the CSTO, show that Moscow’s approach is synchronized with the interests of other countries belonging to these organizations.

In addition, Russia is interested in enhancing the strategic capacity of such organizations as SCO and The Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia to form a new security architecture for Greater Eurasia. This approach is directly linked to the realization of the Russian initiative of “integrating integrations”, which takes into account all actors and all possible changes in the balance of forces in the region, including natural leadership changes.

Thus, Russia is closely monitoring and analyzing the actions and methods of all states and alliances.

NATO’s model of attack on centers of gravity, including  non-kinetic methods of influence and strategic communications; the EU Black Sea Synergy program, which is an element of Euro-Atlantic integration; and decisions within the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation that can be seen as a Trojan horse against the national interests of participating countries - all of these call for adjusting the existing script for scenarios ensuring regional security.

If we talk about military might, then thanks to the state program for 2011-2020, Russia has overcome the “technological and organizational gap”, and the Syrian experience has contributed to the testing of new possibilities, including military-political decisions in relation to partner agreements.

As said earlier, the West deliberately distorts real facts, and does not understand Russia’s methods of planning and work on the hard power front. For example, for the past several years, Global Firepower index has assigned Russia the role of a military hegemon in Black Sea region, followed by Turkey. However, proposed Global Firepower balance of armed forces in Russia, including the Central, Eastern, and Western Military Districts, then this is not entirely correct for Black Sea region         .

The concept of hegemony is associated with drawing other actors into one’s orbit, while some neighboring countries of Russia freely choose and designate who is their partner and who is not. A confirmation of this is the regional policies of Ukraine and Azerbaijan. Therefore, we cannot talk about a hegemonic role for Russia.

It would be more correct to say that Russia is a supplier of security, while the majority of countries of the Black Sea region, including some NATO countries, are consumers of security.

As for the third and fourth factors, methods of direct pressure with the use of military force are only partially applied. Overall, the current concept of the use of armed forces, famous in the West as the Gerasimov doctrine, involves the use of  military force in response to challenges and threats only by one to fourth ratio. Other components include information warfare, geo-economics, diplomacy, and humanitarian operations, which the West usually treats as soft power.

At the current moment, in Russia we are seeing a consolidation of the work of think tanks on certain issues. This not only concerns special security structures or defense corporations, but also independent political science associations, scholarly and educational centers, and special expert pools. The methods of network coordination and multileveled data analysis are being used to forecast, calculate possible scenarios, and suggest preventative work. The latter is particularly important and has shown its effectiveness in cooperation between law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations in preventing the spread of extremism and terrorist ideology.

However, when it comes to all-around work in the Black Sea region, we see a lack of trust between different participants of conflicts, negative historical memory, individual political ambitions, as well as a struggle over resources. Hand in hand with this, over a long historical period, strong influence on decision making and agenda formulation has been exerted through often hidden political techniques by actors who are not directly related to the region - earlier this was Great Britain, and now the United States.

Economic aid programs and military and technological cooperation are often used as tools for implementing the US’ strategic interests. This leads to client states being severely dependent on their patron and partially losing their sovereignty.

We can see that Washington is applying double standards against Turkey and using its agents to conduct various operations of influence, including against neighbor states. This infiltration allows the US to fan artificial conflicts and political tensions, which creates geopolitical fragility in the region and allows for continued transformation in line with the interests of real Western global hegemony.

In this context, cooperation between Russia, Turkey, and Iran on the Syrian crisis might be a good experience in solving regional problems and transitioning to a new level of cooperation between our countries. If we want to create an effective security architecture operating on the principle of autarchy, then there is no need to use the old cliches and broken mechanisms of NATO, and here we can mention this organization’s complete inefficiency in preventing acts of terrorism on its own countries’ territories.

And there is no need to follow in the footsteps of US interests. A flexible approach, respect for the sovereignty and interests of all participants, an understanding of the common destiny of the Eurasian space, and establishing clear criteria for threats - these principles are imperatives for Russia in regional cooperation.

This recommendation can be seen as another signal from the Russian leadership provided by a representative of the expert community.

Text of speech was delivered on Conference "Security, Stability and Cooperation in the wider Black Sea"Conference, Ankara, 05 Dec. 2017.