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The Brief – Black Sea Alert

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The title of this Brief is inspired by the works of Tom Clancy (1947-2013), who got praise notably from US President Ronald Reagan for his well-researched fiction mirroring the military confrontation during the Cold War.

Now the Cold War is back and one of the most dangerous hotbeds of tension is the Black Sea, where the Crimean peninsula is located, and where different types of far-reaching incidents may occur.

The good news is that so far, such incidents have not led to collisions or casualties that would have been a casus belli between NATO and Russia. The bad news is that the risks are growing.

One example is the “close encounters” between NATO and Russian military aircraft.

But there are also ones happening at sea.

Since Russia withdrew on 17 July from the Russia-Ukraine grain deal negotiated by Turkey and the UN, Kyiv came up with its own initiative – to use an alternative route, called “humanitarian corridor”, along the coasts of Romania and Bulgaria.

Ukraine has reportedly asked the International Maritime Organisation to ratify the “humanitarian corridor”.

The ships carrying Ukrainian grain break the Russian blockade by crossing the territorial waters of Bulgaria and Romania, two NATO members, in conditions of Russia’s increasing hostility towards NATO and the West.

Moscow has warned that it may consider any ships in the Black Sea as military targets and has already given proof of its determination.

On 12 August, a Russian patrol boat opened fire in the direction of the Palau-flagged Sukru Okan vessel, whose captain allegedly failed to respond to a request to halt for an inspection.

Russia said the vessel was heading toward the Ukrainian Danube port of Izmail. Refinitiv data on 13 August, however, showed the ship was near the coast of Bulgaria and heading toward the Romanian port of Sulina.

Ukraine has sent two ships along the ‘humanitarian corridor’ so far.

The first, the Hong-Kong-flagged Joseph Schulte, departed the port of Odesa on 16 August, in a test of Russia’s resolve to halt by force any such shipping attempts. The Liberian-flagged ship Primus was the second to try the route on 26 August.

On 13 August, Russia attacked with drones two Ukrainian Danube ports, Izmail and Reni, only a few kilometres from Romanian territory.

In recent weeks, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has been moving dangerously close to Romania.

On 13 August, Romania’s navy said it had deployed a ship and a helicopter to scout for stray mines on the country’s Black Sea coast, after a pier in the seaside resort of Costinesti was slightly damaged in an explosion.

There have also been several cases where sea mines of unknown origin (presumably Russian) were found in Romanian territorial waters.

A Russian attack on a ship in the Romanian or Bulgarian Black Sea economic zone, or the sinking of a ship following a mine explosion, could have heavy consequences.

It would mark an escalation and internationalisation of the war and provoke counter-measures from NATO we can only speculate about – Tom Clancy would excel at imagining them.

Despite the growing risks, it’s surprising how quiet Sofia and Bucharest have been in recent weeks.

In the meantime, the US is seeking to re-route the Ukraine grain exports via the Danube, instead of the Black Sea.

Unlike Bulgaria or Romania, Turkey has been the only country to denounce the Ukrainian ‘humanitarian corridor’ as dangerous.

Ankara said on 28 August that President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an will “soon” visit Russia for talks with Vladimir Putin on reviving the Black Sea grain deal. Moscow is pushing for concessions aimed at easing Russia’s own exports of agricultural products and fertilisers.

A compromise with Putin’s Russia is never something glorious, and Erdo?an is certainly acting mainly out of self-interest. It is assumed that Erdo?an would offer to buy the Black Sea grain and resell it worldwide as Turkish – as Ankara does with Russian gas it receives via TurkStream.

In any case, a negotiated corridor is a much better option than the present unilateral stunt. Erdo?an is expected to meet Putin next week – let’s hope he will succeed.

The Roundup

The European Parliament’s agriculture committee proposed to go beyond the scope of the new EU framework for certifying carbon sinks in farming by providing for the remuneration and trading of negative emission certificates.

Germany’s federal cabinet adopted the new National Data Strategy on Wednesday, with the aim to use the potential of generated data more effectively, strengthen digital innovation, and improve competitiveness.

Europeans’ mental health has been in decline for years and worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and following the EU Commission’s June communication on mental health, the European Parliament’s health committee has drafted the first report on mental health for lawmakers.

Weight loss drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy are rising in popularity – however, experts have warned that the drugs are not a silver bullet solution to the problem of obesity in Europe, a complex and multifactorial public health issue.

Prevention efforts are key to tackling the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Europe, according to a draft report presented by EU lawmakers on Wednesday.

European People’s Party (EPP) leader Manfred Weber wants the EU to rethink its approach to the South Mediterranean region, after making a two-day visit to Tunisia, with whom the bloc has agreed a new cash-for-migrant-control deal.

Last but not least, check out the first EU Politics Decoded Brief after the summer break: The art of pre-election positioning, and the Economy Brief: Hot economic policy autumn.

Look out for…

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen receives Romanian PM Marcel Ciolacu on Friday.
Von der Leyen receives members of Committee of Permanent Representatives to the EU.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Alice Taylor/Zoran Radosavljevic]



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