The strategic environment in the Black Sea region has experienced a dramatic transformation over the last several years. Russia exponentially increased its military presence in the region after its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and establish a "platform for power projection" aimed not only at the sea, but the Mediterranean as well.
Since then, Russia has moved a significant number of anti-air and anti-surface missile systems to the peninsula, where they could hit targets in most of the Black Sea region. It has deployed advanced Bastion missile systems on the peninsula that can destroy practically any target. Russia's increased military presence in the region potentially threatens the functioning of the trade corridor between Asia and Europe, which has significance not only for the littoral states, but for greater global trade.
The Unites States invested significant political and financial resources in the process of strengthening the political and economic sovereignty of the countries in the Black Sea-Caspian region for more than two decades, which has resulted in vibrant energy transit between the Caspian region and the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. Resource-rich Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, as well as transit and consumer countries Georgia and Turkey, are the major beneficiaries of the expanding pipeline, railway, highway and port infrastructure.
Additionally, the expansion of NATO and the European Union brought more security and economic development to the Western shores of the Black Sea, to Bulgaria and Romania. But with its recent actions, Russia is threatening these gains.
So far, the West has had a limited and measured response to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the country’s military buildup in the Black Sea region. The Western institutions and individual nation states continue to respect international obligations vis-a-vis Russia, which include a commitment to limit the size of the military forces and equipment in the Black Sea area. On the other hand, Russia has long been in violation of those same agreements. It suspended participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) in 2007, while the U.S. and its allies are still in compliance with the treaty.
But the West is not without some leverage in the region. The Black Sea is a significant import-export gateway for the Russian Federation. Novorossiysk Commercial Sea Port is one of the largest transportation hubs of Russia. It has the largest cargo turnover among Russian ports and the fifth largest in Europe, and handles approximately 20 percent of all export and import cargoes shipped via Russian Sea ports. The port cities of Novorossiysk and Tuapse are also major oil export outlets, with Novorossiysk playing an increasing role in export of Urals and Siberian light crude oil. Russia already exports significant amount of natural gas to Turkey via the Blue Stream pipeline and has started construction of another pipeline in the Black Sea, Turkstream, to be completed by 2019.
Russia's strong commercial interests in the Black Sea and cannot be interested in a radical escalation of conflict with the West in the region.
It is in the interest of global stability to bring Russia back into the system of international norms and rules. This can only be achieved by understanding that President Putin and current Russian leaders are thinking and operating based on Cold War paradigms of power politics. Russia would understand strong messages coming from other actors involved in the area. The U.S. and NATO should declare a temporary suspension of the CFE treaty and of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act limitations on the size of troop deployments and equipment in Central and Eastern Europe, and deploy military assets in the Black Sea to match Russia in terms of the size of forces and type of equipment. These forces and equipment should remain in the area until Russia removes its military equipment and personnel from the conflict areas in Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, including Crimea.
This is not a risk-free scenario, and there is always the possibility of an escalation in tensions that could lead to conflict. But it is not in Russia’s military, security, political, or economic interests for that to happen.
Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli is a senior fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, part of the American Foreign Policy Council.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.