Various analyses have been made as to why this war started, but it seems that the geopolitical approach and regarding the security and economic importance of the maritime regions in Russia’s foreign policy, there is a fundamental point of view that should not be neglected in any way. Since 1696, when Peter the Great said that “a ruler who has only ground forces has only one hand, but he who also has the navy has both hands”, hydro-politics has found a special place in Russian foreign policy and has become a driving force in regional and international relations of that country. At the present time, Russian President Putin considers Peter the Great to be his most important role model and is trying to govern and administer the new Russia according to the views of that powerful Tsar in the history of his country.
Russia is located in North Asia and Eastern Europe, bordering the North Pacific and the Arctic Ocean; it also has maritime boundaries with the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Baltic Sea. This vast country has land borders with 14 Asian and European countries and has maritime connections with the countries around the Bering Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Caspian Sea, the Black Sea, and the Baltic Sea. Based on this, it is clear that Russia has many sea borders, but most of those borders are frozen most of the year and in practice have little commercial and military efficiency. It is in this context that the Black Sea is so important to the country because of its prominent geopolitical position.
The Black Sea connects six countries bordering it, namely Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Georgia, and Turkey to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean Sea. Of the six countries, three cases (Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey) are members of NATO, and Ukraine and Georgia’s willingness to join the pact has put Kremlin officials at the risk of being besieged by this defense pact of the rival in the Black Sea; a concern that once led to the secession of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and its annexation to Russia in 2014 has now led to Russia’s costly and pervasive war against Ukraine.
On the other hand, the deployment of US medium-range missiles in Romania threatens Russia’s territorial integrity through the Black Sea, which means that a large part of the European part of the country is under the control of US forces; the US administration’s continued efforts to strengthen its military presence in the Black Sea is another reason why it is an important geostrategic location for Russian officials.
From the point of view of energy transfer, the Black Sea, along with the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits, is of special importance, and annually, more than 200 million tons of crude oil reach the consumer markets through the Black Sea.
The importance of the Black Sea from the perspective of maritime transit, especially the export of agricultural products (fruits and vegetables), the Turkish government’s moves to explore gas resources in the sea, and the discovery of gas fields of “Tuna” and “Sakarya” and, on the other hand, crossing two natural gas transmission lines beneath the Black Sea, named “Blue Stream” and “Turkish Stream”, which carry Russian-produced gas to European countries, have helped boost the geo-economic position of the Sea with Russia.
Therefore, despite such a geopolitical and geostrategic position of the Black Sea for Russia, it seems that any analysis of the beginning and conduct of the Ukraine war could not be without addressing the role of that controversial sea. The Russian government’s excessive desire to dominate the Sea of Azov, the Strait, and the port of Kerch and to create a land corridor (the corridor connecting Russia and Crimea to Donetsk and Luhansk), along with the international community’s weak response to Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014, were among the main reasons that encouraged Russian officials to launch a major offensive against Ukraine.
Although the plan of Kremlin’s officials was initially a lightning strike and the rapid occupation of Ukraine’s capital and key cities, the realities of the battle, formed with the full support of Europe and the United States, turned it into a relatively erosive war and the approach of European and American officials also states that the Western front, contrary to media claims, has defined its interests in prolonging the war in order to completely reduce and weaken Russia’s military force.
Under such circumstances, it seems that Russia will focus on occupying vital areas to escape a catastrophic defeat or entanglement in a costly erosive war, and the northern shores of the Black Sea will be one of those strategic areas for Russia which will probably end the war with their complete capture. Domination over those coasts will allow Russia to free itself from strategic and geopolitical bottlenecks, reduce the number of countries bordering the Black Sea and reduce the security implications of the multiplicity of the countries in the region, by turning Ukraine into a landlocked country, control and punish that country and, of course, by announcing the end of the war as soon as possible, convince the public opinion of Russia and the world.
On the other hand, such measures will pave the way for Russia’s future plans to block the export of energy from the Black Sea to Europe, or at least to increase its cost and gain leverage against Europe.
Based on the strategic equations of the region, Putin seems to have defined such a plan for the management of the end of the Ukraine war and tried solutions such as complete military domination, inciting the ethnic aspirations of the people of eastern Ukraine, and using conventional methods, including referendums, and, if necessary (and if other solutions do not work), resort to widespread violence to persuade the other side to end the war, achieve his targets.
Although Turkey and other Black Sea littoral states, NATO, and the Western front, in general, have broad interests in preventing this from happening, it remains to be seen which side has more will and power in this competition, and the Black Sea, which is one of Putin’s serious reasons for entering into the costly war, will unravel his withdrawal from the war or will destroy Russia’s credibility and power.