Russia’s Black Sea Build Up

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently used the 325th anniversary of the Russian navy’s founding to commemorate the marked growth and modernization of his country’s fleet. Much of this growth has occurred in the Black Sea, a region of great importance to Russia since the reign of Peter the Great in the eighteenth century. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia lost its dominance over this so-called “Soviet Lake.” Putin, however, is not content to renounce a region of historical strategic and economic value to Russia. The 2014 invasion of Ukraine allowed Russia to seize the Crimean seaport of Sevastopol, along with much of the Ukrainian fleet. Putin has made his Black Sea ambitions known, building the Russian Black Sea fleet into a formidable force.

Russia’s neighbors, many of them NATO members, deem Moscow’s naval build-up a direct threat to their security. Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey have all expressed concern over this growth in Russian power. Furthermore, many regional experts argue that the Kremlin’s naval expansion is not only a threat to NATO interests but also a means to exert influence on Ukraine and Georgia — Russia invaded these two countries, first occupying Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia in 2008 and then annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 — to assert its dominance and expand its Black Sea coastline. A stronger Russian fleet in the Black Sea also bolsters Russian power in the Eastern Mediterranean, enabling Putin to continue his support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. The U.S. in recent years has supplied the Ukrainian navy with retired warships. A similar policy has been proposed for the Georgian coast guard. The U.S. also aims to cooperate with its NATO allies who, despite their differences, have strong reasons to oppose Russia’s Black Sea ambitions. Putin aspires to renewed control over the “Soviet Lake,” but how NATO should respond to his destabilizing ambition is unclear.  

Questions and Background

  • Is it in the interest of the U.S. to insert itself into the affairs of the Black Sea region, or is it necessary to accept Russian dominance? 
  • Should the U.S. continue to supply Ukraine and Georgia with ships to counter the Russian build-up, or will this only provoke further Russian aggression? 
  • Should the U.S. consider further sanctions on Russia as a means of hampering their expansion? How effective have past sanctions been?

What Is Russia Doing in the Black Sea?
Paul Stronski. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. May 20, 2021.

Russia’s Battle for the Black Sea
Angela Stent. Foreign Affairs. August 16, 2021.

The U.S. must ensure NATO’s door remains open to Georgia and Ukraine
Luke Coffey. Middle East Institute. May 27, 2021.

NATO cannot afford to ignore the geopolitics of the Black Sea
Luke Coffey. TRT World. April 29, 2021. 

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