A group of senators has proposed that the United States develop a strategy for the Black Sea region. In a bill on the United States' strategy for the region, the senators propose taking several measures, including a permanent naval presence and an increase in security assistance to Ukraine.
"As the U.S. continues to aid our Ukrainian partners on the frontlines, we need to look ahead and make investments in vulnerable areas where Russia is actively sowing discord and hoping to turn to next," New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen said. According to the senator and several of her colleagues, the Black Sea basin is one of such vulnerable regions.
That is why a group of senators led by Jeanne Shaheen, who is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the deputy chair of the Ukraine Support Group in the U.S. Senate, proposed legislation on security in the Black Sea (the Black Sea Security Act of 2023) in mid-March. "The bill emphasizes the importance of the Black Sea region to the United States’ national security, as well as to European and global security, especially against the backdrop of the Russian Federation’s continued aggression against Ukraine," Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said, describing the document. What is this document and how exactly can it strengthen security and stability in the Black Sea basin?
The seven proposed principles of U.S. Black Sea policy
"The Department of State and the Department of Defense have been working for years, developing a U.S. strategy for how we can best bolster security and stability in the region... This legislation formalizes those efforts and provides greater certainty for our partners in the region going forward," Congressman Bill Keating said during the introduction of the legislation in the lower house of Congress.
One of the key provisions of the bill proposed by Shaheen (and eight co-authors) is the formulation of seven principles of U.S. policy on the Black Sea region, which can be divided into several sets.
The first set of three principles relates purely to security issues. According to these principles, it should be the policy of the United States to:
- actively deter the threat of Russia’s further escalation in the Black Sea region and defend freedom of navigation in the Black Sea;
- advocate within NATO, among NATO Allies, and within the European Union to develop a long-term coordinated strategy to enhance security, establish a permanent, sustainable presence in the eastern flank, and bolster the democratic resilience of United States allies and partners in the region;
- advocate within NATO and among NATO Allies to develop a regular, rotational maritime presence in the Black Sea.
The second set of principles focuses on the economy. This set of three principles stipulates it should be the policy of the United States to:
- support and bolster the economic ties between the United States and Black Sea partners and mobilize the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and other relevant Federal departments and agencies by enhancing the United States' presence and investment in Black Sea states (Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia);
- provide economic alternatives to China’s “coercive economic options that destabilize and further erode economic integration of the Black Sea states.”
The final two principles stipulate it should be the policy of the United States to:
- ensure that the United States continues to support Black Sea states' efforts to strengthen their democratic institutions to prevent corruption and accelerate their advancement into the Euro-Atlantic community;
- encourage the initiative undertaken by central and eastern European states to advance the Three Seas Initiative to strengthen transport, energy, and digital infrastructure connectivity in the region between the Adriatic Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Black Sea.
The Three Seas Initiative is the political association that Washington considers key to the development of the "new members" that joined the European Union in 2004-2013. "The United States has been invested in the success of this effort from day one because we know that the international rules-based order is stronger with a more integrated, prosperous, and democratic Central and Eastern Europe," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the Three Seas Initiative’s summit in Riga in June 2022. Ukraine was granted the status of a partner of the Three Seas Initiative at this summit.
From theory to practice
In addition to the aforementioned seven principles of U.S. foreign policy, the Black Sea Security Act of 2023 outlines the Black Sea Security and Development Strategy, which contains practical steps for implementing them in four main areas: security, economic prosperity, democratic resilience, and regional cooperation. The security aspect contains the most elements (10). Among them, the following elements are worth mentioning:
- a strategy to increase security assistance to Black Sea states, focused on Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Georgia;
- an assessment of the value of establishing a joint, multinational three-star headquarters on the Black Sea, responsible for planning, readiness, exercises, and coordination of all Allied and partner military activity in the greater Black Sea region;
- an assessment of the challenges and opportunities of establishing a regular, rotational NATO maritime presence in the Black Sea, including an analysis of the capacity, capabilities, and commitment of NATO members to create this type of mission;
- a plan for combating Russian disinformation and propaganda in the Black Sea region, utilizing the resources of the United States government, including the Global Engagement Center, etc.
The Economic Prosperity aspect of the proposed Black Sea Security and Development Strategy includes the following: assessments on energy diversification, focusing on the immediate need to replace energy supplies from Russia and recognizing the long-term importance of broader energy diversification; economic expansion and foreign direct investment; assessments of potential food security solutions, including sustainable, long-term arrangements beyond the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
The Democratic Resilience aspect includes a strategy to increase independent media and United States-supported media initiatives to combat foreign malign influence in the Black Sea region.
The Regional Connectivity aspect includes the promotion of regional connectivity by sending high-level representatives of the Department of State or other U.S. agency partners to the Black Sea region not less frequently than twice a year and major regional fora on infrastructure and energy security, including the Three Seas Initiative Summit.
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We note that the U.S. Congress has not yet approved the proposed principles of U.S. Black Sea policy on the Black Sea region and the proposed strategy for implementing them. This is the second time Shaheen and her colleagues in both the Democratic and Republican parties have submitted such a document to the upper house of the U.S. Congress. Shaheen introduced the first version of the bill in July 2022. The non-approval of the first version of the bill by the U.S. Congress did not deter her because she believes that such a document is necessary. "We need this strategy now," she repeats in press statements and social media posts. With this type of character, Shaheen reminds one of Roman senator Cato and his famous statement, "Carthage must be destroyed." I would like to believe that the U.S. senators will be able to destroy the "Black Sea Carthage" to facilitate the strengthening of security in the region. This, among other things, will facilitate freedom of navigation in the region and thus allow Ukrainian seaports to resume full operation. This is an extremely important task in the current conditions because the lion's share of Ukraine’s exports - particularly grain and products of the mining and metals industry, which are decisive for generating state budget revenue - has traditionally gone through seaports.