Black Sea | Russia’s gateway to global waters

Moscow tries to extort Ukraine’s access to strategic waters in the south

Moscow tries to extort Ukraine’s access to strategic waters in the south

The Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, signed on July 21, 1774 by the Russian and Ottoman Empires after the war between the two powers of 1768-74, was one of the most sweeping treaties for the global balance of power in the 18th century – it marked the beginning of the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the arrival of the Russians, under Catherine the Great, as a great power in the Black Sea region. As part of the treaty, Russia gained access to the Black Sea through the seaports of Kerch and Azov. More importantly, Russia gained official status as the protector of the Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire, a clear sign of the diminishing influence of the High Porte, the Ottoman central administration, within imperial territories.

This clause also left the Crimean Khanate, which had declared independence from the Ottomans, dependent on the Russians. In 1783, nine years after the treaty was signed, Prince Grigory Potemkin, a Grand Admiral in the Imperial Russian Army and a favorite of Empress Catherine, annexed the Crimean peninsula in the name of protecting the Christians amid violent clashes between Christians and Crimean Tatars. The annexation gave Russia seamless access to the warm waters of the Black Sea, emerging as a naval power.

Parallels can be found between the 18th-century annexation of Crimea by Empress Catherine and the annexation of the same region in 2014 by President Vladimir Putin. If Catherine’s annexation has cemented Russia as a Black Sea power, Mr Putin’s move, which came after the pro-Moscow elected government in Kiev collapsed in the wake of the Euromaidan protests, has allowed Russia to attack Sevastopol. which houses its Black Sea fleet, and turn Crimea into a power-projection platform.

Geo-economic reasons

After the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24, Russia further tightened its hold on the Black Sea. Russia has taken the entire coast of the Sea of ​​Azov and more port cities in the south and southeast, including Mariupol, Berdyansk and Kherson. As evidenced by Russia’s military progress, expanding control of the Black Sea is one of the main military objectives of the invasion of Ukraine.

The Black Sea is of crucial importance to Russia for geo-economic reasons. Russia’s northern ports are in the Arctic Ocean, limiting its reach to the world. The gateway to global waters is the Black Sea, which flows into the Mediterranean through the Turkish-controlled Bosphorus and the Dardanelles Strait. Before World War I, Imperial Russia had tried (and failed) several times to conquer the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, as Russian rulers viewed the strait as bottlenecks in the empire’s ambition to become a true global naval power.

Currently, the only Russian naval base outside the former Soviet territories is located in Tartus in Syria in the Mediterranean Sea. Although Russia regards the Mediterranean as NATO-dominated waters, it has sought to strengthen its presence in the region in recent years. So from a geopolitical point of view, it is imperative that Moscow maintain its hold on the Black Sea to remain an influential naval power. The Black Sea is also an essential economic artery for Russia to export its hydrocarbons and grains to Turkey and Asian markets.

During the Soviet era, Russia had dominated the Black Sea, which was then referred to by many as the “Soviet Lake.” Ukraine and Georgia were Soviet republics. Bulgaria and Romania, two other states in the Black Sea region, were part of the Soviet-led Eastern Bloc. The only country outside the Soviet sphere in the Black Sea region during the Cold War was Turkey, a NATO member. Despite Turkey’s control of the Bosphorus and the Straits of Dardanelles, the 1936 Treaty of Montreux grants Russia and other countries on the Black Sea access to the straits, allowing them to move both commercial and military vessels seamlessly in and out of the waters. can bring. (The treaty prohibits aircraft carriers and submarines from non-Black Sea countries from entering its waters. Their ships are allowed for a limited period of time).

But the balance of power in the Black Sea would shift in NATO’s favor after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bulgaria and Romania became NATO members in 2004. Ukraine and Georgia were offered membership in 2008. Had they also been members of NATO, Russia would have seen an arc of NATO’s coast at its gateway to global waters. But in 2008, Russia made a military intervention in Georgia, practically ending the country’s NATO dream. And in 2014, by annexing Crimea, Russia not only derailed Ukraine’s NATO plans, but reaffirmed its hold on southern waters. With Russia taking control of more areas as the invasion progresses, Russia is trying to use force to rewrite the balance of power in the Black Sea in its favor.

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