RFE/RL: Russia’s military build-up at the Black Sea worries allies

A Russian soldier looks on in the course of the unannounced combat readiness inspection (Opuk range) in the Southern Military District   Photo: Mil.ru
A Russian soldier looks on in the course of the unannounced combat readiness inspection (Opuk range) in the Southern Military District Photo: Mil.ru

Russia’s continuous attempts to reconfigure the balance of power in the strategic Black Sea region concern Western security planners, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty pointed out in an analysis dedicated to military developments in this crucial area following Crimea’s annexation.

The timeline itself clearly shows Moscow has been progressively enhancing military presence at the Black Sea. The militarization of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia following the war with Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, in conjunction with an aggressive military modernization that is now bringing new capabilities online, have given Russia powerful new tools to wield influence in the former Soviet Union and to exert pressure against NATO and the European Union.

Russia plans to spend $2.4 billion on the Black Sea Fleet by 2020, including the most modern surface ships and submarines, as well as integrated air-defense and amphibious-landing capacities. By the time the upgrade is completed, the Interfax news agency reported on February 16, the fleet will be able to strike 200 targets with Kalibr cruise missiles in a single salvo, RFE/RL further shows.

In addition, Russia’s new muscle in the region has NATO members Romania and Bulgaria concerned as well. Judy Dempsey, editor in chief of Carnegie Europe’s newsletter Strategic Europe, says Romania is “acutely aware of the situation” and has been working with NATO to create a rapid-deployment capacity in the Black Sea that is similar to what NATO already has planned for the Baltic region and Poland.

Romania is pressing NATO to create a regular Black Sea flotilla in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. NATO, and in particular the United States, substantially stepped up their naval patrols in the Black Sea after the Crimean annexation, but thus far it’s been done on an ad hoc basis.

The Romanian proposal would create a regular “flotilla” reportedly also consisting of ships from Germany, Italy, Turkey and the United States. Romania will try to bring the proposal up at the alliance’s next summit, in Warsaw in July.

“One of Romania’s objectives at the NATO Summit to be held this summer in Warsaw is NATO confirming, at the end of the event, its strong interest in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the Black Sea region as an area of critical importance in the Euro-Atlantic security ensemble,” Iohannis told a plenary session of Parliament a few days ago.

With Turkey and Russia now at loggerheads, risks of a confrontation are even higher, the RFE/RL analysis also warns. With both countries prominently present in the Black Sea, the possibilities for more dangerous incidents are high, analysts say. NATO officials are “very worried” about the possibility of a Turkish-Russian incident in the Black Sea, Dempsey.