20 June 2019

Interview with General Ben Hodges: Romania is the center of gravity for the NATO efforts in the Black Sea region

Mircea Olteanu

Romania, thanks to its strategic position and military capacities, is the center of gravity for the NATO efforts in the Black Sea region, which is also the center of big powers’ competition, stated general (r) Ben Hodges, in an interview for MEDIAFAX.

General Ben Hodges, who was commander of the United States Army Europe (USAREUR), between 2014 and 2017, talked also, in an interview for MEDIAFAX, within the international conference “Black Sea and Balkans Security Forum”, about Russia’s actions impact over the Black Sea region security, stating that Moscow’s intention seems to be the domination of the entire region, including by raising tensions between US and Turkey.

Furthermore, Hodges stated that Romania may become Europe’s portal in the economic trade with China, but for that to happen we must improve out transport infrastructure.

We are presenting you the entire interview, bellow:

Mediafax: What is the impact of new insecurity drivers in Europe, such as Russia's actions, radical nationalism, growing populism, propaganda - upon the Black Sea security?

Ben Hodges: Well of course, Russia has taken on a much more aggressive approach in the Black Sea region in the last few years, starting with their invasion of Georgia in 2008 and then their invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and illegal annexation of Crimea and then, even as late as last November, the opened attack by the Russian Navy on Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea and the seizure of those three ships and their 24 Ukrainian sailors that are still in a jail in Moscow. So, Russia has changed the security situation, I think it's their intention to dominate the Black Sea region, to prevent Georgia from being able to grow economically, to prevent Ukraine from having really any access to the sea and I think they also were trying to drive a wedge between Turkey and the United States. So, all of these things are going on and it's back again in the time for great power competition, and the Black Sea region is now in the center of that competition.

 Mediafax: What is the future of transatlantic relation, especially Black Sea security, in context of the changing security dynamic and a new era of great powers’ competition?

 Ben Hodges: I think the Alliance, NATO, is paying a lot more attention to the Black Sea region now. We've seen an increase in the number of NATO ships that are operating in the Black Sea, there's a heightened awareness of the strategic importance of the Black Sea for everybody, the importance of Turkey as an ally is becoming more and more obvious, but also the increasing role for Romania, because of its geographic location and it's improving military capabilities, real leadership by general Ciucă. Romania, I think, is going to have to play an increasingly important role in the Black Sea region

Mediafax: In the context of the current Black Sea security evolutions, how important is Romania to NATO, but also European Union?

Ben Hodges: Certainly for NATO it is essential. I mean the location, on the Western end of the Black Sea that controls the mouth of the Danube River, it's a neighbor to Ukraine, which is at war with Russia now. Romania I think is the center of gravity for the NATO efforts in the Black Sea region. Secondly, if this Seaport, Anaklia, Georgia, is ever developed, then we have a possibility for a very important economic corridor between Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, so that Romania becomes a kind of portal into Europe for a significant increase in economic trade with China. So, if Romania can improve its infrastructure - roads, highways, railroads - improve that significantly, then I think Constanta becomes a much more attractive port for increased trade. But, if you don't have infrastructure to get things out of the port, then it doesn't matter how big the port is, so the road and the rail leaving Constanta is just as important. So, this is something where the EU can help, but Romania has to continue on the path that your president has pushed it, to be a Western integrated state. And I think changes as the recent elections show that Romanian people want this as well, and hopefully the government will not be a hindrance.