The economic and geostrategic significance of the Black Sea region and the

The imperialist proxy war in Ukraine against Russia is the outcome of a decades-long drive by the imperialist powers to bring the territories of the former Soviet Union under their direct control and represents a qualitatively new stage in the emergence of a new world struggle between the imperialist powers for the redivision of the resources of the globe.

In its recent analysis of the role of critical minerals in the geostrategic and economic objectives of the imperialist drive to subjugate Russia through war, the World Socialist Web Site noted:

“The breaking apart of Russia and its domination by American capital would be a strategic stepping stone in the efforts of the American ruling class to impose a “new American century” through the subordination of China and Eurasia more broadly to its aims. Resources play a role in this. Amid the enduring need for oil and natural gas, as well as the rapidly growing need for critical minerals, Russia is seen as a vital landmass with a vast array of riches.”

If the war against Russia is a “stepping stone” to the war against China, control over the Black Sea is seen as a stepping stone for the breakup of Russia. This article will review the critical significance of the Black Sea region, where this war is taking place, from a geostrategic and economic standpoint.

The geostrategic significance of the Black Sea region

Gaining direct access to the resources of the former Soviet Union, which had been closed off to imperialism for seven decades following the 1917 October Revolution, has been a major goal of the imperialist powers for decades. Within this context, the Black Sea region, which forms a nexus between Eastern and southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and the Middle East, is of strategic significance. 

The Black Sea forms a bridge between Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia [Photo by Google Maps]

For US imperialism, already in the midst of a protracted economic and political decline, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and restoration of capitalism by the Stalinist bureaucracy appeared like a gift from heaven. Drunk with triumphalism, the US ruling class proclaimed 1991 the “unipolar moment.” In 1992, a strategy document of the Pentagon determined that US strategy “must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”

In his book The Grand Chessboard, Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the most influential foreign policy advisers of Washington in the past half century, elaborated on the principal significance of what geostrategists call “Eurasia”—the landmass of Europe and Asia—for the desperate efforts by the US to preserve its global hegemony.

Zbigniew Brzezinski

Within Eurasia, Brzezinski identified what he called the “Eurasian Balkans” as the region where the major conflicts over the control of all of Eurasia would take place. This region, Brzezinski wrote, stretched “from Crimea in the Black Sea directly eastward along the new southern frontiers of Russia, all the way to the Chinese province of Xinjiang, then down to the Indian Ocean and thence westward to the Red Sea, then northward to the eastern Mediterranean Sea and back to Crimea.”

Almost all of the 25 states in this region, he continued, are “ethnically as well as religiously heterogeneous and practically none of them [are] politically stable. … This huge region, torn by volatile hatreds and surrounded by competing powerful neighbors, is likely to be a major battlefield, both for wars among nation-states and, more likely, for protracted ethnic and religious violence.”

The “Eurasian Balkans”, according to Zbigniew Brzezinski. Map from his book The Grand Chessboard. [Photo by Zbigniew Brzeziński ]

Brezinski’s book was not so much a “prediction” but rather an outline of the fundamental strategic objectives and considerations of US imperialism. Indeed, the region he termed the “Eurasian Balkans” has been turned upside down in the past decades through a combination of US bombing raids and invasions, and the systematic fueling of civil wars and ethnic strife.

Beginning with the US invasion of Iraq in 1991, the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and the second invasion of Iraq in 2003, it has also involved major interventions of imperialism through drone and other means of warfare in Pakistan and many other countries. Throughout the 1990s, the US and Germany also fueled ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, culminating in the savage NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999.

More recently, the geostrategically critical Xinjiang province of China, which borders Russia and Kazakhstan, has become a linchpin of US provocations against China and attempts to destabilize and break up the country. In Russia too, the fueling of separatist tendencies and regionalist and political conflicts within the ruling oligarchy with the ultimate aim of carving up the country has been a central component of US policy.

The western end of this “Eurasian Balkans,” the Black Sea region, has been the focal point of both NATO expansion and several coup operations by Washington. Until the Stalinist bureaucracies restored capitalism in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe in 1989-1991, the Black Sea region was largely outside the direct control of imperialism. Only one of the states neighboring the Black Sea, Turkey, was a NATO member.

This changed completely with the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, following three decades of the eastward expansion of NATO, all states bordering the Black Sea with the exception of Russia itself are either members of NATO (Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria) or have been largely integrated into the alliance in all but name, following massive interventions of US imperialism in their politics (Ukraine, Georgia.)

In addition to NATO’s expansion to the Black Sea and Baltic Sea, these operations included the 2003 and 2004-2005 “color revolutions”—US-sponsored coups that relied on mobilizing layers of the privileged middle class and sections of the oligarchy—that took place in Georgia and Ukraine, respectively.

In 2008, Georgia, with the support of Washington, provoked a war with Russia over the two break-away regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea.

These operations culminated in the 2014 coup in Kiev, that was heavily backed by Germany and the US and was carried out by far-right militias such as the Right Sector and a section of the Ukrainian oligarchy, headed then by the “chocolate oligarch” Petro Poroshenko. 

Map showing the eastward expansion of NATO since 1949 [Photo by Patrickneil / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0]

These overt moves to encircle Russia have prompted fears in the Kremlin that the Black Sea is being turned into a “NATO lake.” Indeed, this has been an objective of Washington, in particular, fully aware of the military and economic consequences that full NATO control over the Black Sea would mean for Russia.

The military significance of the Black Sea region in the conflict with Russia

Ben Hodges, a retired US Army officer and former commanding general of the United States Army Europe, recently stated bluntly that the goal of the US in this proxy war consisted in “finally breaking the back of Russia’s ability to project power outside of Russia to threaten Georgia, to threaten Moldova, to threaten our Baltic allies.”

Undermining the Kremlin’s position in the Black Sea region is critical to achieving this goal.

Alton Buland, the director for European policy at the US Department of Defense, has described the Black Sea as “Russia’s geostrategic center of gravity” and its “gateway south, the gateway to the Middle East [and]…the gateway to Asia.”

It is through the Black Sea and via the Bosphorus straits that Russia has access to the Mediterranean. However, this access is highly tentative as the Bosphorus and Dardanelles are controlled by Turkey, a NATO member, with whom Russia has a very tense relationship. (Control over the Bosphorus was a key objective of the Russian Empire vis-a-vis the Ottoman Empire in World War I.)

The Bosporus straits (red) and the Dardanelles straits (yellow). [Photo by User:Ineriot / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0]

The proximity of the Black Sea states to Russia also means that large portions of European Russia, where the bulk of the country’s population resides, can be easily targeted by US sea- and land-based intermediate range missiles, stationed in Ukraine or any NATO member in that region such as Romania or Bulgaria.

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