EUREN Brief 7
The EU, Russia, and European Security: challenges and opportunities in the Black Sea region

The Black Sea region is marked by conventional military build-up, a surge in military activities,[1] protracted conflicts, contested sovereignty and jurisdictions, as well as new transnational threats that emanate from non-state actors. For the last two decades, a rudimentary inclusive Black Sea security architecture has emerged, based on regional frameworks, such as the 2002 Document of Confidence, and Security-Building Measures in the Naval Field in the Black Sea, the BLACKSEAFOR, the Black Sea Harmony project, and the Black Sea Cooperation Forum. More recently, however, the major challenges in this region have been increasing polarisation, deepening dividing lines, fallback into unilateral action, and progressive degradation of cooperative regional security, particularly since the beginning of the crisis in and around Ukraine in 2014. Perhaps the most realistic assessment of this specific and highly volatile security landscape comes from Neil Melvin: "While a comprehensive resolution of the security challenges of the Black Sea probably lies in the distant future, confidence- and security-building measures need to be undertaken today to prevent the emergence of full-scale, militarized power balance politics in the region."[2]

Establishing a regional mechanism that would engage all relevant stakeholders in a dialogue on Black Sea peace and security in an inclusive manner appears to be the main pathway to address the precarious security situation in the region.

The question where the European Union can fit into such a process and whether it will be accepted by all stakeholders as a relevant part of an inclusive regional security architecture remains open. Whether Russia and the EU could jointly work toward this goal is even more questionable.

Andrei Zagorski

Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), Moscow
September 2019

The EU and Russia: Perceptions and priorities in the Black Sea region

The European Union has repeatedly raised concerns about hard security challenges in the region,[3] particularly after the Russo-Ukrainian incident in the area of the Kerch Strait in November 2018.

However, the major regional policy tool of the EU – the Black Sea Synergy – concentrates on 'soft targets' of sector-oriented and pragmatic cooperation, such as the integrated maritime policy, fisheries, environmental protection and climate change, cross-border cooperation, civil society engagement, democracy and human rights, education, research, innovation, culture and tourism, as well as energy and transport.[4]

There are several multilateral platforms on which Russia and the EU continue dialogue and cooperation on these issues in the Black Sea area. Those include inter alia, the Organization for Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), in which the EU enjoys the status of a permanent observer, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, and the Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution (Black Sea Commission, of which the EU is not yet a full member). However, Moscow concentrates primarily on a hard, rather than soft security agenda in the region.

Apart from the admitted possibility of escalation of hostilities in Eastern Ukraine or around the Crimea and the Sea of Azov, Russia's main concern relates to the prospect of a further surge in the military presence and activities of NATO and, particularly, the US in the Black Sea.

Both could lead to the further militarization of the region and increase the risks of direct confrontation with the Alliance, resulting from different scenarios. A lack of appropriate, regular communications between military establishments will make it even more difficult to properly manage the eventual crises and their de-escalation.

For the last two decades, a rudimentary inclusive Black Sea security architecture has emerged. More recently, however, the major challenges in this region have been increasing polarisation, deepening dividing lines, fallback into unilateral action

Hard security issues thus lie at the heart of Russia's threat perceptions. The Black Sea is seen as the most dangerous area in that respect, compared to, for instance, the Baltic Sea or the Arctic (see EUREN Briefs No. 5, 6). Moscow, therefore, considers that the most appropriate tool for addressing the challenge is establishing a platform for crisis management and de-escalation with the US and, eventually, NATO. It does not see the EU as an impartial actor, or as one that is capable of preventing, stopping or slowing down the further deterioration of the security landscape.

Russia appreciates initiatives pursued by the EU in inclusive formats as steps toward creating inclusive mechanisms for multilateral interaction. Arecent example of this was the Ministerial Conference on a Common Maritime Agenda for the Black Sea,held in Bucharest on 21 May 2019. From Moscow's perspective, such steps complement efforts within the framework of the BSEC or the Black Sea Commission. They can also facilitate trust-building and a better political climate in the region in general.[5] At the same time, however, Moscow has been eyeing the EU's Black Sea Synergy with apprehension from the day of its inception. The same is true, by the way, of Turkey. Against the background of their growing EU fatigue, both Moscow and Ankara came to consider it as a challenge rather than an asset.[6] They feared that the increasing presence and activity of the EU could jeopardize the fragile regional balance, particularly between the two dominant coastal states. This led to a Russo-Turkish rapprochement with respect to regional politics. In 2012, in a joint statement that reviewed points of concurrence between the two countries on a great variety of international issues, they emphasized that the transformation of the Black Sea region into an area of cooperation, security and prosperity was the responsibility of coastal states, and that the EU should pursue its multilateral initiatives in the region primarily in cooperation with the BSEC.[7]

Degradation of the regional security architecture

Increasing NATO and NATO-led naval and air activities in the Black Sea area (with due regard to controversies within the Alliance as to the desired level and form of its presence in the region) have occurred in parallel with the progressive degradation of the rudimentary Black Sea security architecture over the past few years.

The implementation of the 2002 Document on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs) in the Naval Field in the Black Sea has suffered against the background of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis since 2014.[8] Originally, the six coastal states agreed on the maintenance of regular communications, contacts and cooperation between their navies. This included mutual invitations to visit their naval bases, the annual exchange of information on the strength of their navies, the two largest naval activities (e.g. naval exercises), and conducting annual joint confidence exercises. Cooperation on the basis of the Document had already become partially dysfunctional after the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, particularly when Georgia repeatedly declined to assume the duties of the Chair-country, and has been further disrupted since 2014. At the 16thannual consultations on the review of the Document's implementation, held in Vienna on 18 December 2018, some signatory states expressed their support for appropriate implementation of the agreed measures. In 2018, the exchange of information on the navies of the coastal states deployed in the area and the notifications of the largest naval activities in the region intensified. However, full scope implementation of the CSBMs is considered to be unrealistic under current circumstances.

The major regional policy tool of the EU – the Black Sea Synergy – concentrates on 'soft targets' of sector-oriented and pragmatic cooperation. However, Moscow concentrates primarily on a hard, rather than soft security agenda in the region

In November 2015, following the downing of a Russian aircraft over Syria by Turkey, Moscow suspended its participation in the Black Sea Naval Cooperation Task Group (BLACKSEAFOR), a group established in 2001 following an initiative by Turkey. It was once considered to be a rudimentary regional framework for cooperatively providing security in the region.

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has also affected the operations of the Black Sea Cooperation Forum (BSF). This was established at the 7th regional meeting of the chiefs of border police and coastguards in 2006, when the Cooperation Agreement between the Border Authorities/Coastguards of the Black Sea riparian states was signed. The agreement provided the platform for periodically holding expert meetings and improving cooperation and planning for common actions aimed at improving trust and security between Back Sea littoral states. These included combatting illegal migration, drug trafficking, trafficking in psychotropic substances, their substitutes and precursors, ammunition, explosives, radioactive and poisonous substances, strengthening the safety and security of navigation, protecting the Black Sea's natural resources, preventing violations of fisheries rules and pollution of the marine environment, and promoting both oceanographic and hydrographic scientific research. The Chair of the Forum rotates every year among the signatory states.[9] The deterioration of cooperation within the BSF manifested itself in November 2018 when Russia was not invited to take part in the 19th annual meeting in Odessa, Ukraine.


Russian-EU interaction in the Black Sea will remain limited to 'non-political', soft and sector-oriented issues for the foreseeable future. It will take place in conjunction with other regional organizations within the framework of the EU's Black Sea Synergy policy. While this will help to maintain inclusive dialogue and cooperation in and on the region, it cannot compensate for the progressive degradation of the inclusive security architecture that seemed to emerge a decade ago.

Russian-EU interaction in the Black Sea will remain limited to 'non-political', soft and sector-oriented issues for the foreseeable future

Any EU advance into the security field might be seen as counterproductive from the perspective of Moscow, who anticipate further shifts in the military balance of power in the Black Sea, based on NATO eventually further increasing its capabilities and activities. However, should the EU embark on 'a more substantial review of the EU's policy towards the Black Sea, when needed', as anticipated by the European Council,[10] the EU should be encouraged to engage Russia (and Turkey) in consultations in order to keep its evolving Black Sea policy transparent and predictable for both countries.

Andrei Zagorski participated in the 10th EUREN meeting on "The EU, Russia and the future of European security" on 4-5 July 2019 in The Hague. This paper is based on his presentation. Its content is the sole responsibility of the author and does not represent the position of individual EUREN members or EUREN as a group.

[1] Dr. Igor Delanoë, "Military Balance in the Black Sea Region", RIAC Reader.

[2] Neil J. Melvin, "Rebuilding collective security in the Black Sea region", SIPRI Policy Paper, no. 50 (December 2018): 69.

[3] "EU Statement on Multidimensional Security of the Black Sea", OSCE Forum for Security Co-operation No848, Document FSC.DEL/55/17, // March 15, 2017.

[4] European Commission; High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Joint Staff Working Document, "Black Sea Synergy: review of a regional cooperation initiative — period 2015-2018", SWD(2019) 100, // March 5, 2019.

[5] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Press release on the approval of Common Maritime Agenda for the Black Sea, // May 24, 2019.

[6] Garcés de los Fayos, "The EU's Black Sea policy: Where do we stand?" // September 13, 2013.

[7] Joint Declaration by H.E. Mr. Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey and H.E. Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, // January 25, 2012.

[8] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Документ о мерах укрепления доверия и безопасности в военно-морской области на Черном море [Document of Naval Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in the Black Sea] // January 25, 2019;
See also: Kuznetsov V. "Европейская безопасность: проблемы и перспективы" ["European Security: Problems and Prospects"], in Россия и Америка в XXI веке [Russia and America in the 21st Century], Issue 4 (2018): 17-18 (DOI: 10.18254/S0000067-0-1).

[9] "The Romanian Border Police handed Ukraine the chairmanship of the Black Sea Cooperation Forum", Romanian Border Police, // November 8, 2018.

[10] Council of the European Union, "Council Conclusions on the EU's engagement to the Black Sea regional cooperation", 10219/19: 4, // June 17, 2019.