Crimea’s annexation by Russia in 2014 was a ‘black swan’ geopolitical event with huge transformative implications for NATO and its Black Sea member states that triggered a “learn and adapt” moment for NATO. Currently, NATO is on its way of rethinking its regional posture in a way that balances the out of area expeditionary role with a more back in business, back in area focus in order to protect the norms and the rules of the European security order. During the Wales Summit, NATO took specific steps in investing in strategic reassurance of the most exposed allies by proposing a newly adapted Readiness Action Plan and creating a spearhead force inside the NATO Response Force (NRF). In addition, the Alliance adopted a plan for the forward deployment of command and control units and key enablers so that it has the capability to rapidly reinforce the Eastern flank. A more even distribution of the NATO’s military infrastructure and assets across the New Europe is seen as a measure that can fix the security deficit and structural imbalance between Old and New allies.
To some extent, the missing link in this larger re-posturing of the Alliance is the Black Sea region (three NATO member states) which our project aims to address. By investing more than US $151 billion in modernizing the Black Sea fleet and building a complex access-denial posture, Russia’s long-term goal may be to gradually develop a keep-out zone where the traditional freedom of action can be denied. The maturation of this Black Sea access-denial complex will make harder for the Alliance to project power, gain access and even operate in this A2/AD theater. In Ukraine, Russia demonstrated the willingness to use force in a hybrid formula against the established status-quo. In this context we cannot exclude scenarios where, under the protection of an A2/AD umbrella, irregular and sub-conventional means can be used to expand Russia’s geography of control in the Black Sea. So, our project will try to answer the following question: what are the implications of a growing access-denial network in the Black Sea for European security and the regional commons?
To this effect, ROEC has convened an interdisciplinary task force to explore the implications of Crimea’s annexation for the Black Sea NATO member countries (Romania, Turkey and Bulgaria) and analyze scenarios where a Russian A2/AD (anti-access/area-denial) umbrella can be used to expand the Russian geography of control in the Black Sea. Our project has produced a series of analytical materials (Op-eds, Interviews, Issue Briefs, and a Special Report) that look into the historical, political, security and energy trends in the wider Black Sea after Crimea.