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Research Questions

  1. What is Russia's strategy in the Black Sea region?
  2. How do Russian instruments of influence and military developments support that strategy?
  3. What are the key interests that other Black Sea littoral states want to advance and protect?
  4. What are the elements of a sustainable Western strategy to protect those interests?

The Black Sea region is a central locus of the competition between Russia and the West for the future of Europe. The region experienced two decades of simmering conflicts even before Moscow's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Russia has used military force against other countries in the region four times since 2008. As participants at a March 2019 workshop in Bucharest, Romania, discussed, Russia is also 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. While the Black Sea littoral countries want to protect themselves from Russian hostile interference, domestic political factors as well as the countries' membership in or level of association with the European Union and NATO influence the degree of overlap and divergence in their interests. Under the circumstances, it is difficult for Western countries to craft and implement a coherent, sustainable strategy to protect common interests and counter malign Russian influence and intimidation, even as it is critical that they do so.

Key Findings

The Black Sea region figures prominently in Russia's overarching goal to restore influence and control along its periphery

  • 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 differing and often divergent interests of countries in the region make it difficult to frame a unified, sustainable Western strategy to counter malign Russian influence and intimidation in the area

  • Any Western strategy must first be more effective in countering Russian information operations, malign influence, and hybrid threats.
  • More visible EU and Western engagement on nonmilitary issues, including reenergized peace negotiations and support of economic projects, regional infrastructure, and integration initiatives would help to counter Russian influence.
  • A credible military deterrent posture need not match Russia militarily. Deployment of advanced air and coastal defense systems in Romania and Bulgaria to counter Russian offensive missile threats, expanded NATO exercises, and continued Western assistance to Ukraine and Georgia in the development of their national defense capabilities could enhance regional deterrence.
  • Ad-hoc bilateral partnerships on mutual priorities with opt-ins and opt-outs for potential spoilers is another possible path to advance regional cooperation.

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.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Russia's Strategy in the Black Sea Region

  • Chapter Three

    Russian Military and Soft-Power Instruments

  • Chapter Four

    Western Goals and Interests

  • Chapter Five

    Elements of a Western Strategy

This workshop and research were sponsored by the Russia Strategic Initiative of the United States European Command (EUCOM) and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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