In the recent months, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its various consequences on the regional and international arena have become the main topic of the political and international relations analysts, a war influential on the security and stability of Eurasia, the international relations order, food crisis, energy crisis, and other domains as well, and with three months past the war, there is no end to it on the horizon.
About why the war began,various analyseshave been provided, but it seems the Russian geopolitical approach and paying attention to the economic and security importance of the sea areas in the Russian foreign policy are a deep point of view which should not be ignored in any way. Since 1696 , which Peter the Great said” a ruler that has only ground force has one hand, but onewho also has marine force has both hands” , hydropolitics gained a special status in Russia’s foreign policy and became a driving force in this country’s regional and international relations. At the present time, Putin, the Russian president, sees Peter the Great as his most important model and tries to rule the new Russia according to the viewpoints of this strong Tsar.
Russia is located in North Asia and East Europe, and shares sea borders with the North Pacific and the Arctic as well as with the Caspian Sea, and the Black Sea. This vast country has land border with 14 Asian and European countries and sea border with the surrounding countries of the Bering Strait, the Japan Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Baltic Sea. Based on this, it is clear that Russia has many sea borders, but most of these borders are frozen most of the time, and in practice, lack trade and military efficiency. In such circumstances, the Black Sea, due to its outstanding geopolitical position, is of paramount importance for this country.
The Black Sea links the six coastal countries of Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkey to the Atlantic through the Mediterranean. Of these six countries, three (Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey) are NATO members and Ukraine and Georgia’s inclination to join this security treaty has left the Kremlin officials threatened by being besieged by this rival defense pact; a concern that once in 2014 led to the partitioning of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine and its annexation to Russia, and also now to a costly and all-out war of Russia against Ukraine.
On the other side, the deploymentof the US mid-range missiles in Romania threatens Russia’s territorial integrity through the Black Sea, and it means a large part of this country’s European land will be within the range of the US missile forces; the US government’s continuous efforts at strengthening military presence in the Black Sea are among the reasons that have turned this sea into a geostrategically important place for the Russian officials.
For energy transfer, the Black Sea, together with the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits has special importance and annually 200 million tons of crude oil passes through the Black Sea to the consumer markets.The importance of the Black Sea , in Sea transit terms, especially in exports of agricultural products (fruits and vegetables) , the Turkish government’s maneuvers for gas discovery in this sea and discovery of the “Tona” and “Sakarya” gas fields , and on the other side, the passage of two natural gas pipelines named “The Blue Current” , and “ The Turk current” underneath the Black Sea , which carry the Russian gas to the European countries, have contributed to this sea’s strategic status for Russia.
Against this background, and with such a geopolitical and geostrategic position of the Black Sea for Russia, it seems any analysis on the beginning and end of the Ukraine war cannot refrain from addressing this disputes-ridden sea. The Russian government’s excessive interest in conquering the Azov Sea and the Kerch Port and Strait and creating a land corridor (a corridor linking Russia and Crimea to Donetsk and Luhansk),coupled with the weak internationalreaction to the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, are the major reasons which encouraged Russia to kick off a wide invasion into Ukraine.
Though Kremlin’s plans at first was a thunder attack and a swift occupation of the capital and key cities in Ukraine, butthe realities on the ground, which have been shaped by full support from the US and Europe, have converted the battle into a war of corrosion, and the US and European officials’ approach implies that the western front, despite media claims, sees its interests in prolonging the war to fully weaken and reduce Russia’s military might.
Under such circumstances, it seems, to avoid such a humiliating defeat or being entangled in a costly and corrosive war, Russia will focus its concentration on occupying vital regions, and the northern coasts of the Black Sea are one of these strategic regions, and the end of war will occur by completely conquering them. Domination over these shores allows Russia to rid itself from the strategic and geopolitical strains and reduce the number of countries bordering the Black Sea, as well as the security consequences of this region. By converting Ukraine into a country surrounded by land, this country will be contained and punished, and of course, by declaring all the quicker the end of war, Russia will be able to persuadethe public opinion in Russia and the world. On the other side, these measures shall pave the way for future Russian plans for blocking the Black Sea energy exports to Europe, or at least by increasing its costs and obtaining a leverage of pressure against Europe, Russia can accomplish such a goal.
Based on the strategic equations of the region, it seems Putin has defined such a plan for managing the termination of the Ukraine war, by means of complete military domination, inciting ethnic separatist inclinations of eastern Ukraine people and exploiting the conventional methods such as holding referendums, and if necessary (and if the other options do not work), resorting to widespread violence which persuades the other side to end the war, and tries to achieve his goals. Though Turkey and other Black Sea coastal countries, NATO and in general the western front have high stakes in aborting such a scenario, but we have to wait and see which side exceeds in will and capacity. And, whether the Black Sea, which is one of Putin’s main motivations for entering this costly war, will be his solution for withdrawing from this war, or Russia’s credit and power are going down the drain.
By Dr.Mohammadmehdi Mazaheri, University Professor
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)