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Russia-Ukraine war: as centuries ago, the Black Sea is once again the scene of clash between the Russian and European world

The Black Sea is once again, in this Russian attack on Ukraine, one of the main theaters of operations. Once again, as in previous centuries and decades, the quasi-lake, only open to the Mediterranean by the Turkish straits of the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, is once again the point of encounter and tension between the Russian world with the rest of Europe and with Turkey, once the Ottoman Empire.

Mythical place, today it is one of the major fault lines between NATO and Russia.

The Black Sea has been for centuries an appetizing morsel for Russia because it ensures – with Ottoman and later Turkish permission – access to warm waters. Its northern ports, for much of the year, were blocked to navigation by the ice, which today breaks with nuclear icebreakers. Leaving through the Baltic next to Saint Petersburg entails passing very close to the coasts of Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

The expansion of the Russian Empire reached its shores in 1783 when, after the conquest of the Crimean Khanate, Russia under the command of Tsarina Catherine II inaugurated the port of Sevastopolsince then a strategic place for the control of those waters.

Crimea and Sevastopol were Russian, and ensured the exit to warm waters of their military fleet. In 1922 Ukraine and Crimea were forcibly integrated into the Soviet Union after a few years in which, in the heat of the instability caused by the Russian Revolution of 1917, French and British occupied Odessa and Sevastopol for short periods.

The seven decades of the Soviet Union saw no change. To the crumbling of him, the independent Ukraine controlled Sevastopol and Crimea, leaving Russia without that port of deep waters for its Black Sea fleet. kyiv and Moscow cooperated and the Black Sea, for a few years, seemed to be on its way, for the first time in history, to being a region of cooperation rather than confrontation.

The fate of the Russian Black Sea fleet was a matter of negotiation because legally it had to go to Russia but Ukraine controlled its port. Negotiations led to an agreement signed on May 28, 1997 whereby Ukraine would keep 17% of the fleet (80 vessels), Russia 83% (338) and could continue to use the Sevastopol base. for 20 years extendable while building a new naval base in the waters of the Black Sea, probably in the city of Novorossiisk.

The beaches of Odessa on the Black Sea in an image taken on February 21. Photo: AFP

The time of tranquility even gave rise to the creation of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, in which Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania but also Armenia, Azerbaijan, Albania, Greece and Moldova participated. In 1999 it begins to function, although its activities are limited because even projects such as the construction of gas pipelines are carried out with bilateral contracts.

The end of tranquility

The Russian attack on Georgia in 2008 to prevent its “orange revolution” and the fact that Russia took from Tbilisi the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia (a region bordering the Black Sea), break the peace.

After years of blockade and increased tension, the Russian annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014 dashed hopes and increased the military presence in waters to which they have access. Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and three NATO member countries: Turkey (which controls access), Romania and Bulgaria. These last two have also been members of the European Union since 2007. Turkey has been a candidate for accession, without much hope, since 1987.

Since 2014 and especially since last February 24, the NATO military presence increases in the Black Sea. Romania and Bulgaria have seen the arrival of contingents of French, Belgian and American soldiers, Spain deployed Eurofighters fighter-bombers.

With these measures, the Atlantic Alliance seeks to secure its southeastern flank and protect two militarily weak countries such as Romania and Bulgaria.

In front, in the small Sea of ​​Azov, a kind of miniature Black Sea, Russia has been besieging and bombing its main port and city, Mariupol, with more than 400,000 inhabitants, for days.

Brussels, special for Clarín

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