The Centre of global studies “Strategy XXI” and an expert group, which included all Black Sea countries and Maritime Expert Platform’s representatives monitored the security situation in the Black Sea region all year long. Based on this, the main trends, new challenges, threats and marks of security situation deteriorating in the Black Sea were summarised.
Having captured Crimea and related infrastructure, as well as creating new infrastructure facilities (including Kerch cities, the “Turkish Stream,” etc.), Russia expands the space controlled by it with the ultimate goal – to turn the Black Sea into a region of Russian influence. According to the Kremlin, this should create a basis for the further motion of Russia to the west as far as it has enough forces and resources, and as it is allowed. The purpose of the Russian fleet activity in the Black Sea is to form a “habitual” perception that the entire Black Sea is a zone of Russia’s influence.
Apart from the deliberate destabilisation of the situation in eastern Ukraine, the object of particular concern is Russia’s factual blockade of the Azov and a northern part of the Black Sea and the creation of A2/AD (Anti Access / Area Denial) restriction zones there. Another area of concern is the security of communication lines that traditionally cross the region and are important for trade, development of economic cooperation. In particular, the tactics of A2/AD-zones setting via navigation restrictions have been used widely.
The latest example is the “war of exercises” in the northwestern sector of the Black Sea. Thus, Russia tries to prevent/hinder international exercises by blocking areas of the sea ostensibly to conduct its own shootings. For example, this took place with Sea Breeze in 2019 and 2020.
In 2019, Russia almost totally blocked the eastern part of the Black Sea from the city of Sochi to Turkey to obstruct the Georgian-American exercise Agile Spirit-2019. Such actions have become a new form of demonstrating Russia’s dominance in the regional space. At the same time, the Black Sea region is not an end in itself for Russia, but only a springboard for Russia’s expansion and strengthening of its presence in the Mediterranean region. But Russia cannot advance into the Mediterranean without a firm foothold in the Black Sea. Therefore, Russia’s Maritime Doctrine states: “In the Black and Azov Seas, the basis of the national maritime policy is the accelerated restoration and comprehensive strengthening of the Russian Federation’s strategic positions.”
The key challenge for Russia stated by the document is NATO’s infrastructure expansion. The threat declared by the Kremlin is NATO’s advance to the East, to Russia’s borders, is far-fetched, because Russia has long bordered on the Alliance – Norway, the Baltic countries, Poland. And the Alliance naval forces have long located in the Black Sea -in Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria. One noticed no threats to the Russian Federation national security.
The end of summer – the beginning of autumn 2020 – is marked in the Russian Federation military calendar by unprecedented large-scale exercises “Caucasus 2020”, manoeuvres of the Black Sea Fleet and occupation forces groups in Crimea. But without waiting for them, on 19 July 2020, the Southern Military District of the Russian Armed Forces troops, located in the Russian Black Sea coast and on the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, were put on alert. They went to the destination areas and conducted exercises. At the same time, additional Russian air defence forces were deployed on Ukraine’s south-eastern borders. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called such military actions of the Russian Federation a “threat of force.”
Amid this, on 20 July, Vladimir Putin illegally visited the occupied Crimea, where he took part in a ceremony of laying down two new landing ships (in violation of international law) at the captured Kerch shipyard “Zatoka,” which confirmed the Black Sea region militarisation by Russia. Besides, in 2020, Russia plans to form 20 crews to staff ships and ships under construction. Also during the year, 16 warships and support vessels were expected to arrive in the fleet. In turn, the practical development of helicopters, in particular Ka-27M, Ka-27TB, Ka-31R, continues in the aviation of the Russian fleet.
In total, Russia has created a “self-sufficient military formation” in the occupied Crimea. More than 32,500 troops are stationed there. Besides, the Black Sea Fleet has been replenished with new warships and submarines equipped with “Caliber” cruise missiles. Thanks to them, the Black Sea Fleet fully controls most of the Black Sea area and has enough means to quickly transfer advanced units of marines and special forces to the South Caucasus or Ukraine. At the same time, Russia increases its underwater acoustic surveillance facilities. It locates them on the infrastructural objects of the Blue Stream and Turkish Stream gas pipelines and testes military submarine robotic systems, which practically leads to the full control of the Black Sea underwater space.
Thus, the Russian Federation secretly creates a new threat “from underwater” and prepares an underwater bridgehead as an element of total control over the Black Sea and the transfer of future confrontation underwater.
A deterrent to Russia’s expansion
Obviously, putting Russian troops on an alert is a Russian Federation reaction to the annual international Sea Breeze 2020 exercises, which took place from 20 to 26 July 2020. More than 2,000 people, 20 ships, planes and helicopters from nine countries: Ukraine, USA, Bulgaria, Georgia, Norway, France, Romania, Spain and Turkey attended them.
These exercises are a deterrent to Russia’s expansion, and therefore they are under Russia’s attention. So, this year, during the Sea Breeze 2020 exercise, the Russian Federation declared several marine areas that overlapped with the exercise areas closed. In addition to traditional surveillance, Russian warships have committed several provocations, in particular, against Bulgarian and Spanish ships.