The Centre for Global Studies “Strategy XXI” and an expert group, consisting of representatives of all Black Sea countries and the Maritime Expert Platform, monitored the security situation in the Black Sea region during 2020. The main trends, new challenges, threats and signs of deteriorating security situation in the Black Sea region were summarised on the basis of obtained data.
Russia‘s de facto blockade of the Sea of Azov is accompanied by constant stops of Ukrainian and foreign ships going to Ukrainian Azov ports. This causes damage to Ukrainian ports (primarily the ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk). For example, the port of Mariupol in 2019 was forced to move to a four-day working week, and its losses were calculated from 15,000 to 50,000 U.S. dollars per day. At the same time, the Kerch Bridge, built by Russia in violation of international law (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982), hinders Ukraine’s economic development by limiting the size of ships that may enter Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov. The consequences of such actions are losses of Ukrainian and foreign shipowners, deterioration of the socio-economic situation in the Ukrainian Azov region that negatively affects the internal situation there.
Security of Navigation
Obstruction by the Russian Federation of freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov remains a serious problem. The threat of imposing an “Azov package of international sanctions” on Russia in response to Russian attacks against Ukrainian ships in November 2018 reduced the duration of ship delays, which was recorded in January-July 2019, but in the second half of 2019, because of the absence of sanctions, Russia resumed blocking passages through the Kerch Strait. In the first half of 2020, the average duration of artificial delays decreased due to the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s desire to lift Western sanctions.
On 1 July 2020, rail cargo traffic on the Kerch Bridge was launched, and the Russian side applied the practice of temporarily blocking the movement of ships through the Kerch Strait. For example, on 2 July, the traffic through the Strait was blocked for five hours, due to the transfer of dangerous military cargo on the Kerch Bridge to the occupied Crimea.
After occupation and annexation of Crimea by Russia, the Crimean ports were included into international sanctions lists, and merchant vessels were banned from entering them.
Territorial waters of Ukraine (12-mile zone), adjacent to the Crimean peninsula, received the status of occupied waters. Shipowners began to refuse sea flights to Crimea, and flag registration countries started depriving such vessels of their registration. However, some shipowners began switching off the International Automatic Identification System (AIS) on ships going to Crimea and falsifying information on ports of destination, indicating Russian ports instead of Crimean ones to prevent violations of sanctions. In turn, the Crimean ports stopped publishing reports on ships. That created a “gray zone” in the Black Sea with a bunch of violations of the maritime law: entering prohibited ports, disabling AIS, falsifying information about ports of destination, and navigation with a wrong flag.
Russia has organised the predatory use of natural resources in the occupied 12-mile zone of the Black Sea and the sea shelf around Crimea, where it illegally extracts natural gas, sea sand and catches fish. There are installed maritime surveillance systems and armed Russian marines on the seized marine gas platforms. The areas around them are guarded by Russian Black Sea Fleet and FSB Coast Guard ships, posing additional military threats to the safety of navigation.
The Black Sea region is mainly energy dependent. In 2018, the dependence of most countries in the region on gas imports was over 80%, except for Ukraine and Romania, where the dependence did not exceed 50%. The majority of countries in the region are heavily dependent on oil imports. Ukraine and Turkey also import coal.
Although Ukraine stopped purchasing Russian natural gas in 2015, it continues to depend on Russian supplies of oil products, liquefied natural gas and coal. In 2015-2019, the share of oil products imports from Russia ranged from 17% to 41.3%. The total share of oil products supplies from Russia and Belarus, which receives Russian oil on preferential conditions, reaches 75%. Moldova’s gas supply also fully (100%) depends on Russia.
The activities of Gazprom and other Russian energy companies in the region could be regarded as a threat. In particular, Gazprom hinders competition in the gas supply market in Bulgaria, which was confirmed by the European Commission in 2015, and it implements a general strategy of abuse in the energy markets, induces territorial restrictions and pursues unfair prices policies. In Ukraine, the behaviour of the Russian monopolist has long been similar: blackmail by termination of gas supplies; imposing high prices with the following political requirements to reduce them; sabotage of the ruling of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce; and requirements to Naftogaz to pay for gas supplied by Russia to the Ukrainian territories it has occupied.
Russia’s energy projects are another source of security challenges. Russia is trying to tie consumers of its energy resources to imposed supply routes. Launched in January 2020, the TurkStream gas pipeline (the first string) ties consumers in Southeast Europe, primarily Bulgaria and Serbia, to energy supplies from Russia, increasing Russian influence on them.
Information Sphere and Cyber Threats
Russian activity in cyberspace is a serious challenge for the security of the Black Sea countries. Russia uses cyberspace for intelligence activities, as well as for secret access to cybersecurity networks of state bodies and establishment of remote control over critical infrastructure objects. Some of the identified Russian cyber groups are: “CyberBerkut” (Sofacy / Fancy Bear / APT28) – attacks on sites of state bodies and public organisations; “SPRUT” (“System of counteraction to Ukrainian terrorism”), Snake, Uroboros – attacks on official sites of ministries, media outlets, financial institutions, special services and armed forces; and Black Energy – attacks on power grids.
Just as dangerous activities are spoofing attacks on navigation systems, in particular GPS navigation, in the Black Sea region. Distortion of the signal may cause the system to mismatch the location of an object, and a ship or an aircraft cannot correctly determine its own location or can lose access to the positioning system.
The report by the C4ADS U.S. organisation proves that Russia is using technologies that disorientate the GPS satellite navigation system, in particular in the occupied Crimea, which poses a significant threat to civilian GPS systems. There were 9,883 cases of Russian interference with GNSS in 10 locations, which affected the operation of navigation systems of 1,311 civilian vessels.