Rand Corporation has recently released a report titled: “Russia’s Strategy in the Black Sea: How NATO Can Up Its Game,” where in a short article it outlines the way for NATO to strangle Russia in the Black Sea. In it they claim that “Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea,” “modernization of the Black Sea Fleet, and expanded forces in the Southern Military District have strengthened its ability to secure its vital southwestern flank from attack, dissuade and intimidate neighbors, and project power into the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant.”
The article of course does not mention the 2014 Crimea Referendum that was conducted according to international law and where the Autonomous Republic of Crimea saw 96.77% of people vote for reunification with Russia with an 83.1 percent voter turnout, and similar statistics in Sevastopol. The article of course provides no evidence that Russia wants to dissuade and intimidate its neighbors, nor that Russia is projecting its power in the Eastern Mediterranean, with the exception of Syria where it is fighting terrorists that are a threat to the Eurasian Giant.
Therefore, we must know who the RAND Corporation are and why they miss key facts in its analysis of Russia. Described by Chamler’s Johnson as “America’s University of Imperialism,” it is the most influential think tank for defending U.S. unilateralism and finds its origins in the period after World War Two. It accepted support from the Ford Foundation, making it a quintessential member of the American establishment. It is considered the U.S. Air Force’s think tank as RAND was created by General H. H. “Hap” Arnold, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and by aeronautical engineer Theodore von Kármán, while in its early years, the bulk of its funding was from the Air Force.
There can be little doubt that RAND are warhawks and support all initiatives to defend U.S. unilateralism. However, the rise of Russia, China and many Middle Powers has meant that we have entered a new period of Multipolarity, where the U.S. can no longer act unilaterally. With the U.S. establishment refusing to accept this reality, it is little surprise that their most influential think tanks are writing guides on how to contain Russia in the Black Sea.
RAND claims that Black Sea countries “want to protect themselves from Russian hostile interference and military intimidation [and] domestic political factors.” An exaggeration when considering most Bulgarians are pro-Russia, a minority of Turks at 43% view Russia unfavourably, and the last time the Russians and Romanians were military engaged with each other was during World War II when Romania joined Hitler’s attempt to invade the Soviet Union. Although Tbilisi and Kiev might claim otherwise, it must be remembered that it was Georgia and Ukraine who began their recent aggressions against Russian citizens in South Ossetia and Russian speakers in the Donbass and Crimea.
Much of the RAND paper reads as a blue print on how to contain Russia in the Black Sea. It suggests the “Deployment of advanced air and coastal defense systems in Romania and Bulgaria to counter Russian offensive missile threats, expanded NATO exercises, and continued Western assistance to Ukraine and Georgia in the development of their national defense capabilities could enhance regional deterrence.” Interestingly, there is no mention of Turkey in the whole article despite the country being the second largest power in NATO and the second largest power in the Black Sea.
With discussions of Turkey leaving NATO permeating in the country, Ankara has strengthened its relations with Moscow by coordinating in Syria and the Russian sale of the S-400 missile defense system, has only fuelled speculation. There is little doubt that relations between the U.S. and Turkey is at an all-time low while Ankara’s relations with Russia is at an all-time high. This has meant that Turkey has become an unreliable partner in NATO and the U.S.-led organization must now rely on far weaker states like Georgia and Romania to try and block Russian dominance in the Black Sea, an impossible task.
Although RAND has highlighted the necessity to strengthen Black Sea states to contain Russia at its ports, its suggestion is not enough to confront the Russian Navy to contain it into the Black Sea, especially without Turkish assistance. Therefore, the U.S. has implemented Plan B in case of Turkish insubordination to NATO.
The new neoliberal government, promising to defend Greece’s sovereignty from Turkey’s daily aggression and continued threats of invasion, has now agreed for three new U.S. military bases in the country, sparking off protests and violence across Greek cities. Even the statue of NATO founder and U.S. President Harry S. Truman in Athens was splattered in red paint to represent the blood NATO has spilled across the world.
The U.S. will now have military bases in Stefanovikeio, Larissa and most importantly, a port in Alexandroupolis, very close to the Turkish-controlled Dardanelles that Russia must pass if it wants to reach the Mediterranean. With the Greek government confirming its status as a vassal to U.S. unilateralism, it remains to be seen whether he would take an openly hostile step against Russia if demanded to.
Although international law stipulates free maritime passage through the Turkish-controlled Dardanelles and Bosphorus, in any hypothetical war between Russia and the U.S., the blocking of these straits would be of utmost importance to Washington and can be done from nearby Alexandroupolis. With Turkey proving to be an unreliable partner, the U.S. could now rely upon its new vassal in the Aegean Sea to contain Russia in the Black Sea.
Though RAND highlighted the necessity of containing Russia in the Black Sea, it had not considered the Greek factor. With a respectable navy, Greece has the capabilities, especially with U.S.-backing, to contain Russia. With Athens agreeing for three new U.S. military bases in the country and Russia selling weapons to Turkey who is openly aggressive to Greece, it appears that the Aegean is becoming a proxy cold war between the two Great Powers.
This issue must now become a priority for the Kremlin, who although would not view this as a proxy struggle, Washington certainly would. Moscow needs to use their experience in peacebuilding to deescalate the intense hostilities between Greece and Turkey. With this, it negates the necessity for a U.S. military presence in Greece which may be justified by Turkey’s daily hostilities. This would especially be in Moscow’s interests as Greece was the only European country researched by Pew in a 2013 study where favorable views towards Russia prevailed at 63% but dropped to 52% in 2018 after the Russian-Turkish S-400 deal. This is still marginally higher than the 51% of Turks who view Russia favourably despite coordination in Syria and arms deals.