Supplement to Geostrategic Pulse no. 219 - Military Balance in the Black Sea Region

Military Balance in the Black Sea Region
Dr. Igor Delanoë
Deputy Director, French-Russian Analytical Center Observo (Moscow)
Affiliate Researcher, CIES, Kadir Has University (Istanbul)
Affiliate Researcher, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute

The ongoing Ukrainian crisis and Russia's annexation of Crimea have demonstrated that the use of hard power, no matter how gradual it could be, remains an option in the Black Sea region. Moscow's takeover of Crimea has overthrown the Black Sea security balance and has shed a new light on the growing militarization that characterized the area. The increasing naval activity of the stakeholders in the Black Sea basin has furthermore underlined the maritime dimension of the regional security. Yet, the military capabilities of Black Sea countries remain highly disparate, while recent developments have put an emphasis on NATO's and Washington's role in offsetting Russian military potential on the Black Sea stage. After having tackled Black Sea countries' defense expenditures, this paper analyzes the regional military balance in assessing and comparing the respective capabilities of the neighboring states.

The Crimean episode of the Ukrainian crisis has put an emphasis on the use of hard power as a privileged and persistent option to solve security issues in the Black Sea region. Following Viktor Yanukovitch's runaway from Ukraine in the night of the February 22-23, 2014, Russia seized the opportunity of the vacuum of effective power in Kiev to initiate the process which eventually led to the annexation of Crimea. After having gained political control over the peninsula through the March 16 referendum and the subsequent call of the Crimean self-proclaimed Republic to join Russia, the military phase was carried out at practically no cost for Moscowi. In February, the pre-military phase began with the gathering of civilian protesters who organized mass rallies – up to 50 000 protesters - in Crimea in Februaryii. The military phase of the operation then started with the occupation of official buildings on February 27, soon followed by the apparition of unidentified armed soldiers, later known as 'green men'. Taking into consideration the high level of militarization of the peninsula, the Russian operation, which ended with the seizure by Russian and pro-Russian forces of all of the 193 Ukrainian bases and military facilities of the peninsula on March 26, demonstrated a very high level of preparation.

If combats between Russian and pro-Russian forces on the one hand, and Ukrainian military on the other hand remained very limited, the Crimean crisis could have nevertheless led to an even worse scenario: the spillover of instability to other areas of the Black Sea region. Although this outcome still could not be totally put aside today, the reverberation of the crisis from Crimea or Ukraine to Transdniestria or Caucasus has not occurred. However, the potential spreading of instability from South-Eastern Ukraine to Black Sea's frozen conflicts would likely involve the use of hard power by the stakeholders, no matter how gradual it could be. By offering Moscow a strong forward defense point in the Black Sea, Russia's annexation of Crimea has dramatically affected the regional balance of power. Russia is not anymore tied to any agreements with regard to the limitation of its units dispatched in Crimea, and the planned expansion of Russian military presence and capabilities in the peninsula furthermore questions the military balance of the Black Sea region.


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