Ariel Cohen and Conway Irwin

Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, DC
Dec 12 2006

U.S. interests in the Black Sea area-energy transit, security,
counter-terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,
and the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and people-have taken
on particular significance since 9/11. The Black Sea basin is a
strategic region bordering the Greater Middle East and a key transit
route for Caspian oil. Confronted with developments in the region,
the U.S. needs a comprehensive regional policy to protect American
interests and security.

BACKGROUND: The Wider Black Sea region is a patchwork of overlapping
political areas and spheres of influence. Bulgaria and Romania are
NATO members and soon-to-be EU members. Ukraine is caught between
the West and Russia. Georgia leans toward the West, but borders on
Russia's soft underbelly. Turkey vacillates between East and West,
pulled in different directions by national interests and national
pride. Russia, in a more pronounced way, it staking its own course.

The Black Sea's six littoral states (Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine,
Russia, Georgia, and Turkey) and several additional countries in
the wider region are beginning to tentatively construct a regional
identity just as foreign powers and outside forces are searching for
footholds in their vicinity. The region is geopolitically significant
precisely because it is a nexus of cultures, international trade
(legal and illicit), ideas, and influences.

Oil and gas from Central Asia and the Middle East move along Black
Sea shipping lanes and pipelines to Europe and other points west.

These same shipping lanes are used for smuggling of narcotics, persons
(including terrorists), conventional weapons, and components for
weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

The Black Sea region can be a launching platform for military,
reconstruction, and stabilization operations in Afghanistan, Iraq,
and possibly Iran and for the protection of energy shipping lanes
between the Caspian region and Western markets. It is also Europe's
new southeastern border. Thus, both the European Union and the U.S.

have strong interests in safeguarding the movement of some goods,
preventing the movement of others, and maintaining a presence in the
Black Sea region.

Turkey and Russia are key powers uneasy about the U.S. presence in
the Black Sea basin. Turkey desires stability in the Black Sea, but
the moderate Islamist AK Party government in Ankara does not see eye
to eye with its Western partners over how to achieve this. Turkey's
perception of the United States was profoundly changed by the Iraq
war. Long an ally of the West and an EU aspirant, Turkey has recently
distanced itself from the U.S. and NATO.

In response to its real or perceived grievances with the U.S. and the
EU, Turkey is seeking a stronger position from which it can pursue
its own ends without interference. Turkey's most recent National
Security Policy Document emphasizes the importance of Turkey using its
geopolitical position to become a hub for energy storage and transit
between suppliers in Russia, the Middle East, and Central Asia and
markets in the West.

Russia, even more than Turkey, has been increasingly moving away from
the West and is focused on maintaining regional hegemony. The Kremlin
has been using Russia's recently acquired economic might, by virtue
of the high price of oil and unprecedented demand for natural gas, to
pursue its foreign policy goals. One of those goals is to become the
world's primary supplier of energy resources. Òhat requires a tight
grip on purchasing and transporting of the oil and gas resources of
the former Soviet Union.

IMPLICATIONS: Russia has turned a generous profit as the middleman
between cheap Central Asian oil and gas and energy-hungry economies
in the West. By selling Central Asian oil and gas at a premium abroad,
Russia has earned windfall profits and undertaken obligations to supply
countries such as the EU and China well beyond its own abilities to
produce. Russia also supplies two thirds of Turkey's natural gas and
roughly 40 percent of the EU's-a position that may be in jeopardy
if the pipelines through Turkey are built using non-Russian sources
of supply.

Further complicating regional security in the wider Black Sea
region are the unresolved conflicts in the region: South Ossetia
and Abkhazia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova, as well
as the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. These conflicts raise two
primary concerns. First, they threaten the territorial integrity
of internationally recognized states. Implications for separatists
in Chechnya, Daghestan, Kurdistan, Khouzistan, Baluchistan, and
even Xinjiang are easy to imagine, to say the least. Second, the
local governments of the secessionist regions operate according to
their own "laws", not those of the central governments, resulting in
insufficient oversight and crime prevention. These lawless enclaves
have become breeding grounds for international smuggling and other
illicit activities. Until the conflicts are resolved, ruling elites in
these statelets will frustrate efforts to establish a lasting peace,
which is a precondition for stability, security, and economic growth
in the broader region.

Because the U.S. does not have a free rein in the Black Sea region,
it is essential that the countries in the region develop their own
intraregional capabilities in maritime security, counterterrorism,
disaster preparedness, and other aspects of securing their waterways
and coastlines. However, the Black Sea littoral states are operating
according to their own distinct agendas, and there is no consensus
about how to achieve common security goals. Tensions over status
within the region, conflicting allegiances, and varying perceptions
of what constitutes stability are preventing these states from finding
mutually acceptable ways to combat their common problems.

U.S. presence currently has the support of Bulgaria and Romania, but
U.S. relations with Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine are on shaky ground.

Neither Turkey nor Russia supported U.S. operations in Iraq, and
relations with both countries have taken a downturn ever since.

Ukraine has adopted a more pro-Russian stance since Prime Minister
Viktor Yanukovich took office. Georgia is under severe economic
and political pressure from Russia and preoccupied with internal
conflicts and is thus ill-equipped to act as a strong U.S. ally. This
tangled web of interests and alliances and the recent rapprochement
of Russia and Turkey, which has anti-American implications, may hamper
U.S. activities in the area.

CONCLUSIONS: To maintain a presence in the region, the United States
needs a realistic strategy to enhance the security and stability of
the Black Sea region. This specifically involves coordinating U.S.

and EU policies in the region, especially with regards to the European
Neighborhood Policy. It also involves increasing NATO cooperation
with non-NATO countries through Partnership for Peace by offering
technical and training assistance in security areas, and strengthen
bilateral military ties with Ukraine.

Other elements could include sponsoring trilateral military exchanges
and consultations between Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey to assuage
Turkish concerns about losing its dominant position in the Black Sea
basin to the growing influence of the U.S. America can contribute to
existing regional security structures either as a participant or as an
observer. This could include providing crucial technical intelligence
capabilities, airlift, and other specialty capacities.

These structures could also be included in NATO military and disaster
preparedness exercises to improve interoperability.

A stable Black Sea region must include urging Russia to lift sanctions
against Georgia and pushing for renewed multilateral talks over the
resolution of the region's "frozen conflicts", particularly acute
in the case of Georgia. This includes promoting the replacement
of Russian/CIS peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia with
international peacekeeping forces - under the EU or UN umbrella,
or otherwise constituted.

Even with all of the current U.S. foreign policy concerns (e.g.,
Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and North Korea), the U.S. would be unwise
to concentrate on these crises to the exclusion of all others.

Shoring up alliances and improving relations with states in strategic
areas bordering on main theaters of operation, such as the Greater
Middle East, is of utmost importance in developing future geopolitical
arrangements, enhancing strategic stability, and assuring military
egress and re-supply.

Given the current state of U.S. relations with Turkey and Russia,
the only way for the U.S. to maintain and strengthen its footholds
in the Black Sea is to develop cooperation across a broad spectrum
of issues of common interest and mutual concern. The U.S. needs to
learn to tread lightly, offering support where possible and backing
off where necessary. This is not an impossible balance to achieve. If
successful, it could be used as a model for cementing U.S. presence
in other strategic areas, such as Central Asia. It is time for the
U.S. to launch a coordinated policy effort in the Wider Black Sea
region to gain support for addressing some of the most pressing issues
of the decade: the rise of Iran, WMD proliferation, cooperation in
the global war on terrorism, and energy security.

AUTHORS' BIO: Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow in Russian
and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Security at The Heritage
Foundation. Conway Irwin is an energy writer with Argus Media. p?articleid=4636

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