For as long as history has included naval military power, Russia has been on a quest to “reach the warm sea.” Something most Western nations take for granted, the presence of a port that doesn’t freeze in the winter can mean the difference between a thriving nation and one brought to its knees economically and militarily.
Russia’s history is made up of major wars and other small conflicts that have come directly from their simple quest to establish naval bases and merchant ports in the warmer seas of the world—the Indian and Pacific Oceans instead of the unforgiving Arctic Ocean and the other frozen seas of the north.
The mostly landlocked and ice-locked nation (with the exception of its lone warm-water port, Vladivostok) has waged countless wars to include the Crimean War, the First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars, and the Russo-Turkish Wars of the 17th and 18th centuries. Even Russia’s support for Serbia in the first days of World War I was driven by their motivation to establish a warm-water port in the Mediterranean. A warm-water port was even the driving factor for Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Yes, I can hear you: “But that doesn’t make any sense, Afghanistan is a landlocked country!” What the Russians, then Soviets, were hoping to accomplish was to exploit the long-standing grievances between the Afghans and the Pakistanis (not a landlocked country). Some Russian intelligence analyst probably thought the pro-Russian Afghans would join Russia in taking over southern Pakistan, and allow Russia to establish a warm-water port in the Indian Ocean. That may have been viable until the West interfered, just as they have for hundreds of years by doing everything in their power to keep the Russian’s from attaining that ever-elusive goal. In the end, Russia lost in Afghanistan and the Soviet Union collapsed.
Fast forward to the present day. That quest is still ongoing, as we’ve see Russian military intervention in Georgia in 2008, and currently in the Ukraine and Crimea. Except this time, President Putin has achieved what no others have before him. Russia now has and will have an established presence in Crimea and access to the Black Sea and the rest of the world.
But what slipped under the radar is another huge win for Russia: Abkhazia. Last month, in November of 2014, Abkhazia, the breakaway province of Georgia that resulted from Russia’s 2008 invasion of the smaller nation, has signed a military treaty with Russia placing all of its military forces under a Russian commander and banner. Abkhazia, on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, will soon be home to Russian warships and military personnel. There is nothing Georgia, or even the West, could do about it.
What’s next on Putin’s radar? Aside from armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and possibly more separatist support in Moldova (both of which are landlocked regions), Russia’s current focus is to hold what it took in the Black Sea. The Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean are out of its reach for the foreseeable future, but Russia taking more territory in the Black Sea is something we should expect and watch for. Black-Sea nations such as EU members Bulgaria and Romania, and even Turkey, are relatively safe from Russian aggression. But places in the Ukraine, such as Odessa and Nikolaev (Mykolaiv), and even the Republic of Georgia, should keep a watchful eye for further Russian military intervention in the form of either direct invasion or paramilitary covert action and government destabilization.
A major armed battle for the Black Sea is an all-too-real possibility in the next decade.
(Featured image courtesy of intercepts.defensenews.com)