MAS Special ReportWider Black Sea Region

Weekly review NATO - UE LEVANT Western Balkans Black Sea Region

21 februarie 2020 - Special reports - Wider Black Sea Region

The Black Sea Region. 2020 outlook

Sandu Valentin Mateiu

2020 will be quieter in Black Sea’s area, thanks to Russia’s tactical tracks, however, tensions will increase between the Russian state and NATO’s member states, in fact, only Romania, US’s closest ally, but also within the countries Russia has an influence on, such as Ukraine, Republic of Moldova and Georgia. The Russian offensive for these states’ control will continue through diplomatic, economic and hybrid methods. This contained attitude will change if Russia does no manage to raise the sanctions, though it does not want to get to a consensus with Ukraine, or if it does not reach its post-INF developments and armament control goals. The Russian military equipment will get stronger, the air and maritime, as well as the strategic superiority will be constantly proved through its usual methods.

Sursă foto: Mediafax

The main political-military fault is still the Western one, meaning NATO-EU and Russia, more obvious in Romania, as Turkey got closer to Russia and Bulgaria wants to stay “neutral”. The second one would be Russia’s policy in terms of its influence in Ukraine, Republic of Moldova and Georgia. Meanwhile for the Georgia situation the weak status quo will continue, in Republic of Moldova, Igor Dodon will allow the Russian control to get bigger and, in Ukraine, Russia will seek for political solutions to Donbas’s conflict, one to provide it control over Kiev. Except for Black Sea’s West, the West will take a few steps back. The global fault, the Russia-US one, will influence the area, especially the post-INF developments. The Russian military equipment in Crimea will get stronger, with no similar answer from NATO.

Actors’ internal policy will influence these faults. Russia continues to be the essential military and political actor, opposing the status quo. For internal reasons, Russia’s goal is raising the sanctions and cancelling the political and economic isolation, but also getting to armament control’s solution. After the “Stalinist phase”, wherein it broke the opposition and armed Russia in order to become a super power and after the “Khrushchevist” one, wherein, by using controversial military projects has returned to the superpower status, Putin wants, now, to avoid the “Brezhnevist deadlock”, respectively the trap of a decreasing and isolated economy, which cannot support the military burden. Putin’s Russia is, socially, at the edge of stability, although its economy is stable and the opposition is eliminated, the regime is strengthening its control on society. Oil’s prices is still low, the Russian economy cannot go on with the military costs without openness. Furthermore, without access to Western technology, they cannot talk about modernization. This is pushing Moscow to solve the older or newer crises diplomatically, but from an already conquered stance.

This will be mostly proved by the way it will solve the Donbas conflict, after Zelensky took the power. These negotiations will be on the headlines, but results will be diversified, as they could only reach remarkable progresses if Kiev gives up, which is less likely to happen. Kiev’s main issue is, however, reforms’ implementation. Their results will, most likely, be mediocre and will not destabilize the country. Another problem for Kiev is US’s interest decrease, due to an internal political issue. The French-German interference cannot counterbalance it, although it can keep the dialogue with Russia. Therefore, there are quite small chances for the Donbas conflict to escalate.

In RM, Moscow can strengthen its political control through Igor Dodon and its government. Dodon will continue to get close to Russia, faking some reforms, its goal being another presidential mandate, but also keeping the Western funding. He could gradually introduce a Kozak plan, pretending RM’s “neutrality recognition”. In RM, some tensions will escalate after the presidential elections, especially that the nearness process with Russia will have negative effects, even if it is hidden under a symbolic economic Russian support. The distance between RM and Romania will get bigger, although leadership’s anti-Romanian manifestations will slowly go down, as the context no longer requires it. In Georgia, Russia will keep its status quo, as long as this state’s integration in NATO is not a feasible project anymore. Tbilisi will consume itself in the fight between the opposition and the political force of a “Georgian Dream”.

In the Western camp, meanwhile Turkey will distance from US and EU even more, however, not affecting the region, Romania and Bulgaria, although still two politically, militarily and economically weak states, will slowly but safely progress. Bulgaria will continue to cooperate with Russia and will encounter no security issues, whilst hybrid problems will persist. Romania and Russia will ignore each other, something that will not bring peace especially that the conditions for relaunching this relation are not clear from Moscow’s perspective. Some of the Russia-Romania confrontations will fade away, like, for example, RM, were we and the West will only witness Igor Dodon’s “pro-European reform spectacle”. However, the political-military weak relation between Russia and US will have immediate consequences, especially considering that Romania will be part of a NATO/US response to post-INF developments.

Russia will strengthen the military equipment in Crimea and South Caucasus and develop huge military exercises. Whilst Moscow will cut some of its military costs, previous programs will allow the dislocation of new ships, aircrafts and other armament systems. The Russian maritime, air and strategic superiority is still undisputable in the region. Russia will continue its demonstrative military actions, even carrying force demonstrations, but not challenges[1]. The force report is unchanged, favoring Russia, especially in Black Sea’s Western area. The Patriot air defence systems and the coastal defence batteries will ensure just a small limitation of Russian air and maritime forces maneuver freedom close to our littoral. The first remarkable change will take place when Bulgarian F-16 aircrafts will be operationalized, although, from a political-military perspective, they may not change this report!

US and NATO’s aircrafts and ships presence in the area will be like a litmus, favoring NATO, however, then returning to the well-known report. Russia will seek a contained behavior (harassing, but no challenges), but, if it does not get anything from US, it may change it.

Romania has only one year to evolve quietly, considering RM’s negative developments and Ukraine’s uncertain ones. As for the relations with Russia, the mutual ignorance does not mean we are on the right path, because Moscow’s hostility is determined by non-negotiable realities: our integration in NATO and EU and the strategic partnership with US. In an unsafe regional and global security environment, Romania still has time to reduce its internal vulnerabilities, entering the Western world, and generate military capacities to match nation’s financial efforts. Only these can provide deterrence, and nothing else, regardless of how big allies’ commitments for our security is (and it is really big!).

Translated by Andreea Soare

[1] Except for a degradation in relation with US. Most likely, Russia will respond to post-INF measures: flights, even dislocation of Tu22M3/Tu160 aircrafts in Crimea. The Iskander M and Iskander K dislocation, even a temporary one, in Crimea, as well as the nuclear weapons stowage, should surprise no one. How many out of the 170 Kalibr missiles of Black Sea’s Fleet, will have nuclear charge?