By Mamuka Tsereteli 
February 9, 2024

A US strategy for the Black Sea is long overdue. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the involvement of the US, Europe, Iran, and North Korea, have created new geopolitical realities around the area.

While a broad range of political, maritime, economic, and energy security issues have increased the need for clarity in the US approach, one particular recent development is urgent and needs answers.

Russia’s Black Sea fleet has taken a beating from Ukraine. In all, 15 warships have been sunk and 12 damaged in the past two years, most recently the missile corvette Ivanovets on January 31.

That has forced Russia to look for harbors further east, such as Novorossiysk and Tuapse. But there is no safety from Ukrainian aerial and maritime drones there either, as indicated by a January 28 strike on the latter port’s oil refinery.

Recognizing the risk, Russia plans to reactivate a small Soviet-era military facility in Ochamchire in Abkhazia, a Georgian region illegally occupied by Russia. Currently, Ochamchire is a base for Russian FSB patrol boats and is not capable of harboring large naval vessels.

The decision has significant implications for Georgia and its Black Sea-Caspian neighbors, threatening the viability of important trade routes.

Here, some context is necessary. Georgia’s Black Sea ports are in close proximity to Ochamchire and are already serving as connecting links between Europe and wider areas of Central Asia, which includes a range of countries stretching from the South Caucasus to China’s western Xinjiang region.

Ochamchire is also fairly close to the potential point of entry for the planned subsea power cable connecting South Caucasus sources of green energy to the European Union (EU) countries of Romania and Hungary.

This strategic role of the Eastern Black Sea is frequently missing from EU and US policy documents.

Non-EU littoral states are not included in the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), for example. At the same time, the Black Sea ports of Georgia and the so-called “Middle Corridor,” linking the South Caucasus to Central Asia, provide Europe with access to vast resources of energy, metals, coal, cotton, and other goods, as well as to growing markets in an emerging region.

This latter role is particularly important; for Central and Eastern European states, saddled with a decades-long dependency on Russian resources and Russia-linked infrastructure, the South Caucasus and Central Asia can serve as a major potential alternative. This importance may only grow with the post-war development and reconstruction of Ukraine that will follow the current war.

The Middle Corridor, running between Kazakhstan and Georgian Black Sea ports and the Mediterranean ports of Turkey, allows Central Asian states to bypass the geopolitically unstable Russian route.

Some of the claims for this route are overblown. It’s unlikely it will become a major corridor connecting China and Europe. There are significant geographic, political, economic, and governance issues associated with this, meaning it will be unable to match maritime, or other land-based transportation options between China and the EU.

At the same time, the Middle Corridor is extremely important for the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus.

According to multiple studies, (see World Bank study, EBRD) the transshipment potential of the Middle Corridor between Europe and Asia via the Caspian Sea will continue to grow and play an increasingly important role between the growing economies of Central Asia/South Caucasus and EU and Mediterranean markets. This will require a combination of investment and efficiency measures and more vigorous intra-regional coordination.

The only suitable outlet for this route is Georgia; the other countries are landlocked and need to transit neighboring states to reach open seas and markets.

But the absence of firm security guarantees from NATO or other military allies also makes Georgia and its Black Sea ports vulnerable.

Russia’s willingness to use military force and gray zone attacks in the Black Sea increases political risk. One way to mitigate this is to engage as many countries as possible in trade and transit via Georgia. Once Georgian ports are important to others, such as Turkey, China, India, and the Gulf States, the pressure for peace can balance potential threats.

Georgia also needs to develop naval defense capabilities with drones and air defense systems and rebuild civil defense and military reserve systems to create at least a basic level of deterrent to Russian aggression.

The US Black Sea Strategy should incorporate support for the free flow of goods and mineral resources between Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

But most importantly, it should include a pathway to the development of the Black Sea security system for all littoral states, including Georgia, regardless of the outcome of the war in Ukraine. This is a vital American strategic interest, with implications beyond the Black Sea region.

Mamuka Tsereteli, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council/Central Asia-Caucasus Institute

Published in Staff Publications
Thursday, 18 January 2024 18:17

Experts' Scenarios on Russia's Future

By Dr. S. Frederick Starr, ed.

January 18, 2024

Experts' Scenarios on Russia's Future

Screenshot 2024-01-18 at 1.16.39 PMWhat does Russia’s future hold? Of course, we don’t know. For a century 
determinists of various persuasions claimed to be able to predict future developments. They believed that a very few key economic or social indicators determined humankind’s future evolution. Nowadays all but the most diehard determinists accept that a broad range of factors contribute to the direction of change. We acknowledge that along with economic and social change, factors as diverse as the values and personalities of leaders, the dynamics of groups and bureaucracies, changing sources of energy, group and national psychology, and even changes in climate can all shape the future. 

These and many other factors could affect the outcome of Russia’s current war on the Ukraine and developments within the Russian Republic immediately thereafter.

Acknowledging that the future is indeed unknowable, it is nonetheless of great value to find out how a range of leading analysts perceive it. To which factors do they assign particular weight, and which do they downplay or ignore? Are there issues on which there exists a degree of 

consensus? And if there is consensus in any area, does it acknowledge the possible importance of what Donald Rumsfeld called the “unknown unknowns”?

To address these questions we asked many leading analysts and
commentators to set down their views on Russia’s future over the coming
decade. We made a point of asking for their views on what will happen,
and not what they believe should happen. This paper presents the
thoughts of 25 respondents from 16 countries. Of course, the list could
Experts’ Scenarios on Russia’s Futures have been extended indefinitely to assure that all of the main perspectives would be represented. But ars longa, vita brevis. We are deeply grateful to
those who found time to contribute to this compendium and acknowledge

the good intentions of the many others who were not able to do so.

Some readers may find in these pages convincing answers to their
questions about Russia’s immediate future. Others may reject them all,
while yet others—and these are our target audience—may be so inspired
or infuriated by what they find in this collection as to lead them to pen
their own prognostications



Click here to read the full article (PDF)

 S. Frederick Starr, Ph.D., is the founding chairman of the Central Asia- Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, and a Distinguished Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.



Thursday, 04 January 2024 17:01

Some Lessons for Putin from Ancient Rome

By S. Frederick Starr 
American Purpose
January 4, 2024
Vladimir Putin, having sidelined or destroyed all his domestic opponents, real or imagined, now surrounds himself with Romano-Byzantine pomp and grandeur. The theatrical civic festivals, processions of venerable prelates, cult of statues, embarrassing shows of piety, endless laying of wreaths, and choreographed entrances down halls lined with soldiers standing at attention—all trace directly back to czarism, to Byzantine Constantinople, and ultimately to imperial Rome. Indeed, Putin considers himself as Russia’s new “czar,” the Russified form of the Latin “Caesar.”
But besides all the parallel heroics, Roman history offers profound lessons for today’s world. All of America’s Founders saw the Roman Republic as the best model for their own constitution. Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler, by contrast, found in imperial Rome a stunning model for their own grandeur. True, some of Rome’s ancient chroniclers, including the celebrated Livy, so admired specific politicians that they saw only their good sides and ignored the problems and failures. Yet there were others, notably the pessimistic Sallust, who not only wrote bluntly of history’s painful issues but delved deep into their causes and consequences.
Is Putin likely to delve into the history of Rome for insights on his own situation? Unfortunately for Russia, Putin is not a reader, preferring instead to engage in exhibitionist athletic activities, preside at solemn ceremonies, or offer avuncular obiter dicta. However, if he would study the Roman past, he might come to realize that that model presents more than a few chilling prospects that he will ignore at his peril.
To take but one example, a glance at Roman history would remind Putin that self-declared victories may not be as victorious as he and Kremlin publicists want to think. Back in the 3rd century B.C., when Rome was still a small state in central Italy, it was attacked by a certain King Pyrrhus, a rival ruler from Epirus, a region along today’s border between Greece and Albania. In his first battles Pyrrhus routed the Roman legions, and celebrated accordingly. But matters did not end there.
Like Pyrrhus, Putin’s army scored some early victories in its war on Ukraine. As recently as December 1, Putin’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu was still claiming, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that Russian forces “were advancing on all fronts.” Pyrrhus made similar false claims, only to discover that his own soldiers were no match for the determined Romans. As the Romans drove Pyrrhus’ army from the field, he groused, “If we win one more such victory against the Romans we will be utterly ruined,” which is exactly what happened. Pyrrhus’ statement gave Romans the term “Pyrrhic victory,” which we still use today. Putin should apply it to his “victories” at Bakhmut and Avdiivka.
Another crisis in Rome’s early formation as a nation occurred when a peasant uprising threatened Rome itself and, according to the historian Livy, caused panic in the Roman capital. In desperation, the elders turned to Lucius Cincinnatus, who was neither a military man nor a professional politician, but who had earned respect as an effective leader. It took Cincinnatus only fifteen days to turn the tide, after which he returned to his farm. George Washington rightly admired Cincinnatus and consciously emulated him, returning after the Battle of Yorktown to Mount Vernon. By contrast, Putin’s “special military operation,” planned as a three-day romp, is now approaching the end of its second year. Putin, no Cincinnatus, doomed himself to being a lifer.
Roman history is a millennium-long showcase of motivation or its absence. In this context, Putin might gain further insights by examining Rome’s centuries-long battle against the diverse tribes pressing the empire from the north. For centuries Rome’s legionnaires were well trained, disciplined, and committed. The list of their early victories is long. Both Julius Caesar and the philosopher-emperor-general Marcus Aurelius succeeded because they motivated and inspired their troops. But over time the Roman army was increasingly comprised of hirelings, déclassé men who fought not to save the empire but for money or a small piece of the bounty. Inflation and rising costs outpaced pay increases. Punishment was severe, in some cases including even crucifixion. In the end, Rome’s army eroded from within.
This is what is happening to the Russian army today. Putin attacked Ukraine in February 2022 with what was then an army of several hundred thousand trained professional soldiers. But after the Ukrainians killed more than 320,000 Russian troops, their replacements were unwilling and surly conscripts and even criminals dragooned from Russia’s jails. Putin quite understandably fears such soldiers. Putin’s army, like that of the late Roman Empire, is collapsing from within.
By contrast, Ukraine’s army at the time of the invasion was small and comprised mainly Soviet-trained holdovers. Both officers and troops of the line had to be quickly recruited from civilian professions and trained. Yet they quickly proved themselves to be disciplined and resourceful patriots, not tired time-servers. True, Ukraine is now conscripting troops, but these newcomers share their predecessors’ commitment to the nation and to their future lives in a free country.
Sheer spite and a passion for avenging past failures figured prominently in Putin’s decisions to invade both Georgia and Ukraine. Roman history suggests that this isn’t smart. Back in 220 B.C., Rome defeated its great enemy, the North African state of Carthage. Anticipating Putin, the Carthaginian general Hannibal sought revenge. Acting out of spite, he assembled 700,000 foot soldiers, 78,000 mounted calvary, and a force of war elephants, and crossed the Alps. Though he was a brilliant general, Hannibal’s war of spite turned into a disaster.
Why did Hannibal lose? Partly because of his sheer hubris and the spite that fed it, and also because the Romans avoided frontal battles and simply ground him down. They were prudently led by a general named Fabius Maximus, whom later Romans fondly remembered as “the Delayer.” Today it is the Ukrainians who are the Delayers. By grinding down Putin’s army and destroying its logistics they have positioned themselves for victory.
The Roman Republic fell not because of any mass uprising but because of the machinations of Julius Caesar. A victorious general, Caesar looked the hero as he was installed as imperator. As was customary at such ceremonies, an official retainer placed behind the inductee solemnly repeated over and over the admonition to “Look behind you!” Caesar failed to do so and underestimated the opposition of a handful of officials and generals who feared the rise of a dictator perpetuus. Even if Putin chooses not to read Cicero, Plutarch, or Cassius Dio, he could productively spend an evening watching a Moscow production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
Turning to a very different issue, Putin seems blithely to assume that whenever Russia defeats a neighboring country it can easily win the hearts and minds of the conquered, whether by persuasion or force. This is what many Roman generals and governors thought as well, but they were wrong—fatally so. Speaking of the impact of corrupt officials sent by Rome to the provinces, the great orator-politician Cicero declared to the Roman Senate, “You cannot imagine how deeply they hate us.” Does Putin understand this?
Finally, it is no secret that Russia today, like ancient Rome, is increasingly a land of immigrants; its economy depends on impoverished newcomers from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia who fled to Russia in search of work. Yet Moscow treats them as third-class citizens and dragoons them as cannon fodder or “meat” to die by the thousands on the Ukrainian front. Rome faced a similar problem and wrestled with it unsuccessfully over several centuries. Over time the despised immigrants who poured across the Alps from Gaul demanded a voice in Roman affairs, and eventually took control of the western Roman Empire.
Sad to say, neither Putin himself nor any others of Russia’s core group of leaders show the slightest interest in learning from relevant examples from Roman history or, for that matter, from any other useable past. Together they provide living proof of American philosopher George Santayana’s adage that, “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.” In Putin’s case, though, he seems never to have known it. 

ABOUT THE AUTHORSS. Frederick Starr, is a distinguished fellow specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus at the American Foreign Policy Council and founding chairman of the Central Asia Caucasus Institute.

Published in Staff Publications

Whether Russian President Vladimir Putin dies in office, is ousted in a palace coup, or relinquishes power for some unforeseen reason, the United States and its allies would face a radically different Russia with the Kremlin under new management. The geopolitical stakes mean that policymakers would be negligent not to plan for the consequences of a post-Putin Russia. On November 2, 2023, CACI Chairman S. Frederick Starr joined a panel organized by the Hudson Institute’s Center on Europe and Eurasia for a discussion on how US and allied policymakers can prepare for a Russia after Putin.

Click here to watch on YouTube or scroll down to watch the full panel discussion.

Published in News




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