Russia and control of the seas

If you have a world map on hand, dear reader, look at it.

22 May 2022 Sunday 16:46
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Russia and control of the seas

If you have a world map on hand, dear reader, look at it. Because we are talking about geography and, therefore, geopolitics. Geography determines the foreign policy of countries. The paradigmatic example is Russia.

On the European side, it forms a huge plain that extends to the rest of Europe as far as the Western Pyrenees. Hence the obsession with extending its security perimeter to the west, which is reflected in Catherine the Great's historic statement that the best way to defend Russia's borders is to expand them.

This was the case with the Tsars and later with the Soviet Union, when it came to dominate Central Europe (the so-called satellite countries), including the eastern part of Germany.

This domain included the eastern and southern Baltic, complemented by the neutrality of the western part (Finland and Sweden). This situation avoided the risks of sea frosts that could cover the Gulf of Finland and allowed access to the "warm waters" of the Atlantic, through the Nordic Straits. It also allowed us to overlook the difficulties of getting out of a normally icy Arctic and very difficult to navigate.

This obsession with going out to sea is manifested in other geographical points. The conquest of Siberia led to the arrival of the Pacific, hence the strategic importance of the Kuril Islands, which were captured in Japan at the end of World War II. Another example is in Central Asia, the protagonist of the Great Game, in the 19th century, between the Tsars and the British Empire to gain access to the Indian Ocean, after controlling the Caspian Sea.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has substantially changed the situation in that sea, as Russia now has to share its coasts with four more countries. In return, the melting of the Arctic as a product of global warming opens up new possibilities for Russia, although seven of the eight Arctic Council countries are or will be members of NATO.

Finally, Russia's other major focus has been on the Black Sea. That is why Russia has always wanted to control the Caucasus and the western part of the sea, which it achieves with the Soviet Union, apart from the strategic control of Turkey's access to the Mediterranean in the Bosphorus and which explains the historical animosity and military confrontations. between the two countries, since the Tsarist era and the Ottoman Empire. As a result, Turkey's membership in NATO was an obvious geopolitical setback. This is still the case today, in addition to the release of Russian and Soviet influence over Romania and Bulgaria. This explains much of the logic behind the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the control of Crimea (and the Sevastopol base, used by the Russian fleet for centuries) and the desire to cut off access. Ukrainian in the Black Sea, connecting Crimea to the Donbass to the east and Transnistria to the west. Beyond the ultranationalist and Pan-Slavic dream of Greater Russia, behind it is to recover much of the territory lost as a result of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is essential for President Putin's goal of reclaiming post-Soviet space.

This geopolitical situation, in turn, explains Turkey's strong position, which allows even the possibility of vetoing the entry of Finland and Sweden into the Atlantic Alliance. A position that now provides him with something very important and that has gone relatively unnoticed: the ban on the passage of warships, both Russian and NATO, through the Bosphorus.

But back to the Baltic. The entry of Sweden and Finland into the Atlantic Alliance, formally requested by the two countries and which is expected to lead to their integration by the end of the year, is another extraordinary setback for Russia and explains its virulent reaction, threatening “technical-military” measures if this involves the presence of NATO troops in its territories.

Thus, the Baltic becomes an Alliance Sea, having been a Soviet Sea. Because beyond the Gulf of Finland, Russia has only the Kaliningrad enclave between Lithuania and Poland. That is why the defense of the Suwalki corridor (the only land link with Belarus) and the border between the two countries is essential for NATO to prevent the Baltic republics from being isolated on the ground from the rest of the Alliance.

But in any case, the situation is profoundly altered by the historical change of Finland and Sweden, abandoning neutrality (forced in the case of Finland, but freely assumed by Sweden, since the Congress of Vienna in 1815) and allowing the defense of the Baltic republics also from the sea.

Russia's military empowerment is Russia's only response. The threat of installing nuclear warheads on Iskander missiles located in that territory and the expansion of the Baltisk Naval Air Base are part of this context.

That is why the move by the two Nordic countries (provoked by Russian aggression) to share their security within NATO is a real defeat (one more) for Putin. Not only has it failed to bring the Alliance back to its pre-1990s borders, but it has been strengthened with countries that have so far remained neutral. And worst of all, it cuts to its historical obsession with controlling the adjacent seas. If, in the end, it fails to cut off Ukrainian access to the Black Sea, the balance would be catastrophic for Russia. A Russia increasingly encapsulated in its own territory and with less capacity to access the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

A real disaster for Putin's neo-imperialist ambitions.




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