Page 2 of 2 Russia remains a Black Sea power
By M K Bhadrakumar
Russia has now gained de facto control over two major Black Sea ports - Sukhumi
and Poti. Even if the US-supported regime of Viktor Yushchenko in Ukraine
creates obstacles for the Russian fleet based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol
- in all probability, Moscow will shrug off any Ukrainian pressure tactic - the
fleet now has access to alternative ports on the Black Sea. Poti, in
particular, has excellent facilities dating to the Soviet era.
The swiftness with which Russia took control of Poti must have made the US
livid with anger. Washington's fury stems from the realization that its game
plan to eventually eliminate Russia's historical role as a "Black Sea power"
has been rendered a pipe dream. Of course, without a Black Sea fleet, Russia
ceased to be a naval power in the Mediterranean. In turn, Russia's profile in
the Middle East would have suffered. The Americans indeed had an ambitious game
plan towards Russia.
There is every indication that Moscow intends to assert the strategic presence
of its Black Sea Fleet. Talks have begun with Syria for the expansion of a
Russian naval maintenance base at the Syrian port of Tartus. The Middle East
media recently suggested in the context of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to
Moscow that Russia might contemplate shifting its Black Sea Fleet from
Sevastopol to Syria. But this is an incorrect reading insofar as all that
Russia needs is a supply and maintenance center for its warships, which operate
missions in the Mediterranean. In fact, the Soviet navy's 5th Mediterranean
Squadron had made use of Tartus port for such purpose.
China shows understanding
Moscow will approach the CSTO summit pleased with the SCO's backing, even it it
was not without reservations. Medvedev said of the SCO meeting,
course, I had to tell our partners what had actually happened, since the
picture painted by some of the Western media unfortunately differed from real
facts as to who was the aggressor, who started all this, and who should bear
the political, moral and ultimately the legal responsibility for what happened
Our colleagues gratefully received this information and during a series of
conversations we concluded that such events certainly do not strengthen the
world order, and that the party that unleashed the aggression should be
responsible for its consequences ... I am very pleased to have been able to
discuss this with our colleagues and to have received from them this kind of
support for our efforts. We are confident that the position of the SCO member
states will produce an appropriate resonance through the international
security, and I hope this will give a serious signal to those who are trying to
justify the aggression that was committed.
It must have come as
a relief to Moscow that China agreed to line up behind such a positive
formulation. On Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow also seems to
have had its first contact with the Chinese Embassy regarding the issue.
Significantly, the Foreign Ministry statement said the meeting between Russian
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin and Chinese ambassador Liu Guchang
took place at the Chinese initiative.
The statement claimed, "The Chinese side was informed of the political and
legal motives behind Russia's decision and expressed an understanding of them."
(Emphasis added.) It is highly unlikely that on such a sensitive issue, Moscow
would have unilaterally staked a tall claim without some degree of prior tacit
consent from the Chinese side, which is a usual diplomatic practice.
The official Russian news agency report went a step further and highlighted
that "China had expressed its understanding of Russia's decision to recognize
Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia".
The favorable stance by Belarus, Kazakhstan and China significantly boosts
Moscow's position. In real terms, the assurance that the three big countries
that surround Russia will remain on friendly terms no matter the West's threat
to unleash a new cold war, makes a huge difference to Moscow's capacity to
maneuver. Any time now - possibly this weekend - we may expect Belarus to
announce its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Clearly, Moscow is disinterested to mount any diplomatic campaign to rally
support from the world community for the sovereignty and independence of the
two breakaway provinces. As a Moscow commentator put it, "Unlike in comrade
Leonid Brezhnev's time, Moscow is not trying to press any countries into
supporting it on this issue. If it did, it could find quite a few sympathizers,
but who cares?"
It serves Moscow's purpose as long as the world community draws an analogy
between Kosovo and the two breakaway provinces. In any case, the two provinces
have been totally dependent on Russia for economic sustenance.
With the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, what matters critically
for Moscow is that if the West now intends to erect any new Berlin Wall, such a
wall will have to run zig-zag along the western coast of the Black Sea, while
the Russian naval fleet will always stay put on the east coast and forever sail
in and out of the Black Sea.
The Montreal Convention assures the free passage of Russian warships through
the Straits of Bosphorous. Under the circumstances, NATO's grandiose schemes to
occupy the Black Sea as its private lake seem outlandish now. There must be a
lot of egg on the faces of the NATO brains in Brussels and their patrons in
Washington and London.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign
Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka,
Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.