In September 2019, RAND Corporation released a report named “Russia, NATO, and Black Sea Security Strategy,” focused on what Russia allegedly wants in the Black Sea region and how the US and NATO should counter it.
The report is a result of a workshop that took place on March 22nd, 2019 in Bucharest, Romania, as well as subsequent research. [pdf]
The report is quite dramatic, with statements such as “The Black Sea region is a central locus of the competition between Russia and the West for the future of Europe.”
Russia, furthermore, according to the workshop and experts Stephen J. Flanagan, Irina A. Chindea, is using informational, economic, energy, and clandestine instruments to advance its goals of transforming the Black Sea, along with the Sea of Azov, into virtual internal waterways, where Russia can have the kind of freedom of action it has achieved in the Caspian Sea.
The report furthermore claims that Russia is using S-400 missile defense systems and other coastal defense to consolidate “ownership” of the region, in addition to unconfirmed reports of restoring nuclear weapon storage sites. The report came short of mentioning the unconfirmed reports of the Russian security service – the FSB allegedly using a radioactive green laser to irradiate the Ukrainian coast guard.
“Since 2015, Russia has deployed Bastion mobile coastal defense missile systems and the most advanced air defense missile system in Russia’s inventory, the S-400 Triumph, to augment other capabilities. The reactivation of early-warning radar stations and deployment of advanced electronic-warfare equipment also support the development of a more effective Russian Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) network. There are also unconfirmed reports from Ukrainian sources that Russia has made preparations to restore nuclear weapons storage sites in Crimea for possible support of missile and strategic aviation forces.”
Furthermore, based on mostly unconfirmed reports and speculation, a key finding is the following, the two key findings of the report are the following:
- Russia’s occupation and militarization of Crimea, modernization of the Black Sea Fleet, and expanded forces in the Southern Military District have strengthened its leverage in the region and its power-projection capabilities into the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant;
- Moscow’s overall objectives are tailored to conditions in each country in the region, with goals of keeping various neighbors in states of nonalignment or insecurity relative to Russia and the West and open to Russian economic, political, and malign influences.
The report focuses on the modernization of the Black Sea Fleet. The authors emphasize that since 2014 it has been replenished with six corvettes, six submarines of Project 636 Varshavyanka and three multipurpose patrol ships of Project 11356: Admiral Grigorovich, Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov. The last three are carriers of Kalibr cruise missiles capable of hitting targets throughout the Black Sea.
All this, according to RAND, allows the Kremlin to create a so-called restricted access zone in the region, in which NATO forces will suffer unreasonably high losses during a military clash.
That is also entirely based on speculation.
In conclusion, the rather short and fictious report gives the following recommendations:
- Since there is no purely military solution to security in the Black Sea, an effective Western strategy must first do better in competing with Russia for aspirations of citizens in the region. This requires more effective and better integrated strategic communications efforts, as well as efforts to counter cyber and hybrid threats.
- There is also a need for a more credible and sustainable military deterrent posture. Rather than attempting to match Russian military capabilities across the board, NATO and like-minded partners in the region could enhance deterrence by deploying advanced air defense and coastal defense systems in Romania and Bulgaria to counter the effectiveness of Russian offensive missile threats across the Black Sea. Continued assistance to Ukraine and Georgia in the development of their national defense capabilities also contributes to regional deterrence.
- Ad-hoc bilateral partnerships on mutual priorities with opt-ins and opt-outs for potential spoilers, bringing in NATO and the EU where and when possible, is another possible path to advance regional cooperation.
- More visible EU and Western engagement in the region on nonmilitary issues, including reenergized peace negotiations and support of economic projects, regional infrastructure, and integration initiatives would also help to counter Russian influence.
- Finding ways to move the “fight” outside the Black Sea region is another possibility. Like-minded allies and partners might try to identify other regions and issues where Russian interests are vulnerable, and then let the Kremlin know that further aggression in the Black Sea region will be countered in other areas of concern.
Notably, bringing the “fight” outside the Black Sea is an interesting statement, since there’s currently no fight in the Black Sea, so the continuous fearmongering war talk is quite apparent.
The focus on Ukraine and Georgia is expected, but it has, so far, led to quite little. In that regard, there is a recommendation to provide more advanced coastal defense systems to Romania, similar to the Aegis Ashore system that can be repurposed to launch nuclear-capable Tomahawk missiles. There are recommendations to also position such advanced defense systems to Bulgaria.
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