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Weakening U.S. Influence in the Black Sea: Russia and China’s Objective

Debilitar a Washington en el Mar Negro: objetivo de Rusia y China

THE BLACK SEA is once again a disputed area. Russia, with ambiguous Chinese support, is trying to control the area. Turkey will not relinquish its authority under the Montreux Convention of 1936 to block the entry of ships during wartime. And NATO will insist on seeking to control air and maritime space to contain Moscow.

The NATO Strategic Concept, unveiled in June in Madrid, highlighted the necessity of strengthening NATO’s forward defensive posture in the Black Sea. Despite opportunistic double-dealing, the Madrid consensus was to strengthen NATO’s northern flank, with or without Finland and Sweden formally joining the alliance. Central Europe will also see more NATO activity, but the problem on the southern flank is the lack of political consensus and the difficulties of addressing security and navigation challenges in the Black Sea, although the Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain exports was as predictable as this second Russian invasion of Ukraine.

About 130 cargo ships were waiting in Romanian territorial waters to dock in Odesa and load grain, when the July 22 UN-sponsored agreement between Turkey, Ukraine and Russia finally allowed the first departure of cargo ships from Ukrainian ports on August 1.

Even before the war, Western security experts warned of the urgency of more robust action by NATO in the Black Sea scenario: Among others, retired U.S. Lieutenant Ben Hodges at the Center for European Policy Analysis; Luke Coffey at the Hudson Institute and Slawomir; Jan Debski, the Polish Institute of International Affairs director. Romania insists on demanding more NATO attention to Black Sea security issues. Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Bulgaria will tend to go along with the war in Ukraine.

Dominating the Black Sea is a key objective of Moscow’s “counter-encirclement” strategy. And Beijing’s plans to expand its influence in North Africa and Europe involve weakening NATO in the Black Sea without strengthening Russia too much, something for which Ankara’s ambiguity and regional ambitions may play to China’s advantage.

Turkey will play a delicate balance between its obligations as a NATO member and its proximity to Moscow and Beijing, not least because the Montreux Convention, which gives Turkey the right to restrict warships from entering the Black Sea while guaranteeing commercial traffic unrestricted, will likely continue unchallenged.

It remains to be seen to what extent southern European nations are willing and able to engage Washington in regional security. Central Europe, starting with Romania and Bulgaria, does seek more support from Washington in the Three Seas Initiative on developing regional infrastructure. In addition, expansion of the initiative to include countries that are not members of the European Union countries, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, will only be possible with Washington support.

Already, a bipartisan group in the U.S. Senate introduced a bill for American assistance in the Black Sea, which would include both NATO and non-NATO members. And the Senate’s direction to the Administration for a new strategy for the Black Sea region was positively greeted by Georgia’s Ambassador to the U.S., David Zalkaliani.

  • The Montreux Convention to remain unchanged.
  • Ankara to continue its double game between Moscow and NATO.
  • Moscow to use more “gray” tactics of agitation, disinformation and bribery to sustain its influence in the region.
  • Beijing to play between Turkish ambiguity and its limited but important support for Russia to avoid a NATO-controlled Black Sea.
  • Washington to eventually increase NATO’s presence in the region, but not significantly and consistently in the short term with an administration as weak as the Biden one.

Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros

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