Struggle over Marginal Seas

BERLIN (Own report) - German military specialists are evaluating the growing significance of the Baltic and the Black Seas in the West's power struggle with Moscow. These two "marginal seas" are of great importance to Russia, according to a recent analysis published in the specialized periodical "MarineForum." Whereas the Baltic Sea serves Russian maritime trade as a "gateway to the Atlantic," the Russian Navy needs the Black Sea as a strategically central "diving board into the Mediterranean," facilitating Russia to gain influence from the Middle East all the way to the Indian Ocean. Whereas NATO controls the access to both "marginal seas," Moscow is seeking to consolidate its strategic positions, and to better extend its reach from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. NATO is seeking countermeasures to again confine Russia, the MarineForum writes. Germany is also expanding its activities in and at the Black Sea and is inviting allied navies to participate in joint maneuvers in the Baltic Sea.

Access to the World's Oceans

An analysis, published in the current edition of the specialized periodical "MarineForum," focuses on the geostrategic significance of the Baltic and the Black Seas for Russia. Russia being "primarily a continental land power," but striving to be recognized as a global power, "necessarily also needs unfettered access to the world's oceans," the paper notes.[1] This is no problem in the Arctic (Murmansk) and at the Pacific, but less favorable in relationship to the Baltic and Blacks Seas. For today's Russian Navy, both seas are "indispensable as back up areas." In addition, the Baltic Sea is "Russia's gateway to the Atlantic for maritime trade" that must be "kept open." The Black Sea has "a special significance for comprehensive strategic considerations." NATO does not yet have a "predominant power position on Russia's southern/ southwestern flank, as it has in Central and Western Europe. Therefore, in areas of the Mediterranean and Middle East, Moscow could "still pursue systematic power politics, 'cultivating' political and military allies, such as Syria, or even winning new ones." For Russia, the Black Sea is a "diving board into the Mediterranean and beyond - all the way to the Indian Ocean."

Forging Eastward

For Moscow, it is all the more disadvantageous that NATO exercises a tight control over the entrances of both extremely important "marginal seas" - "in the Baltics at the Danish Straits and in the Black Sea, at the Bosporus," affirms MarineForum.[2] NATO's concept, in fact, stipulates that - as in the cold war - "these straits be immediately closed" in the case of an escalation of conflicts. On top of that, "at the marginal seas," Moscow had lost not only its previous allies, but also "the vast majority of its previous coastline (the Soviet republics)." Now, in the event of a conflict, it is no longer able to "engage as far forward" as the Soviet Union. "At both marginal seas," Russia had, for a long time, relied on its "partnership" with the West, trusting in Washington's assurance given in 1990 that "in exchange for the Soviet consent to German unification ... 'the western alliance would not expand its sphere of influence an inch eastward'," explains MarineForum. Even though NATO quickly forged "eastwards into the former Soviet buffer zone" - "right up to the Russian borders" - in violation of its agreements - Moscow had, for a long time, still sought cooperation and "up to a few years ago, had even participated in NATO exercises."

Sea Control

In fact, only after Georgia's August 2008 attack on South Ossetia - which led to a five-day Russian-Georgian war - did Moscow begin to change course and consolidate its positions of strategic power against the West - completing this transition only after the pro-western putsch in Ukraine. For example, "a permanent Mediterranean squadron, formally set up in 2012 under the command of the Black Sea Fleet, ... assures a permanent presence in that region of high importance to Russia," explains the MarineForum.[3] "NATO (in close cooperation with the EU,) is now determined to counter these measures," according to the journal. In the Baltic Sea, it pertains to the fact that Moscow is relying on the military strategy of anti-access / area denial (A2/AD),[4] because deprived of control over passages to the Atlantic it would be restricted to areas in the far east of the sea, the journal writes further. On the other hand, one could enter into "Sea Control," a concept that has "entered into the US Navy's thinking since early 2017." Today, the Black Sea, as well, is being taken more into consideration. It also seems important "to clarify further expansion of Russian naval forces' operations beyond Syria and Cyprus, in the direction of Libya," the journal explains. That is where "NATO is expected to reinforce its presence - particularly with its naval forces."

From the Mediterranean into the Black Sea

NATO and EU naval operations off the Libyan coast and in the Aegean, with the excuse of warding off refugees, is culminating in a growing presence of warships - German as well - in a maritime region, where Russia has also set its sights.[5] The Bundeswehr, as well, is participating in the intensification of western military activities at and in the Black Sea. In principle, Berlin has agreed to support the "Tailored Forward Presence" in Rumania, agreed on at NATO's Warsaw summit last July. That includes the reinforcement of NATO's presence at the Black Sea - on land, in the water and in the air - according to the the war alliance. Germany is one of the countries that declared their participation "with airborne, land and naval forces," according to Germany's Ministry of Defense.[6] Most recently, with its FGS Rottweil minesweeper, the German Navy participated in the "Poseidon" maneuvers, organized by Rumania, from March 5 - 13. Seventeen warships and more than 1,500 naval personnel from seven NATO countries took part.[7] The maneuvers were to train in "securing maritime routes," with a focus on de-mining operations.

Nuclear Bombers over the Baltic Sea

Simultaneously, the Bundeswehr is placing greater importance on activities in the Baltic Sea. Since the 1990s, when Berlin was primarily concentrating on developing a capability for global interventions, this region had faded somewhat into the background. A few days ago, a maneuver with the German and South African navies drew to a close - in the Baltic Sea. Previously, German naval units usually had carried out their partnership training exercises with South African units within the framework of sailing around Africa, off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope. The BALTOPS maneuver, organized annually by NATO in the Baltic Sea, is also gaining new importance. The BALTOPS maneuvers were first held in 1971. At times, in the course of the exercises, combat between two Baltic riparian countries had been trained. Russia is the only Baltic riparian that is neither a NATO member nor one of its close partners - unlike Finland and Sweden. During the last BALTOPS maneuvers, in June 2016, around 4,000 soldiers from 17 countries participated, including - alongside the NATO countries - also Finland, Sweden and Georgia. Moreover, US B-52 bombers, which in principle are used for nuclear weapons, were called into action.

[1], [2], [3] Heinz Dieter Jopp, Klaus Mommsen: Ostsee und Schwarzes Meer im Fokus. Russland und die NATO in den Randmeeren auf Konfrontationskurs?
[4] Wesley Clark, Jüri Luik, Egon Ramms, Richard Shirreff: Closing NATO's Baltic Gap. Tallinn, May 2016.
[5] See NATO-Einsatz gegen Flüchtlinge and Mit den AWACS im Syrien-Krieg.
[6] NATO in Osteuropa: Verstärkte Präsenz zeigen. 05.12.2016.
[7] Warships start underway portion of Romanian-hosted exercise Poseidon. 08.03.2017.