The Greater Black Sea Basin (GBSB) – the region between the middle of the Adriatic
Sea in the west and the middle of the Caspian Sea in the east, between the Russian landmass in the north and the Turkish-Persian landmass in the south – is fast becoming Europe’s latest tinderbox.
Although traditional geographic textbooks identify the borderline between Europe and Asia as the line stretching westwards along the water-crest of the Caucasus Mountains and then arching southwards through the center of the Turkish Straits and then hugging the Greek littoral westwards, the legacy of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union put the entire GBSB within the confines of Europe’s geopolitics and geoeconomics.
Hence, the rapidly boiling cauldron which the GBSB has become is first and foremost Europe’s challenge.
And it is Europe’s – specifically, the EU’s – failure to confront and resolve the crux of the crisis that makes the GBSB Europe’s latest and potentially most dangerous tinder-box.
Throughout history, the singular global significance of the GBSB has lied in the frictional overlapping of north-south and east-west mega-trends. It is the recent developments in these mega-trends which aggravate the grand strategic posture in the GBSB.
North-south dynamics started in the middle of the 15th Century when the Russians started pushing the Mongol-Turkic hordes southwards in a series of wars, while the Ottoman Armies occupied Constantinople, brought an end to the Byzantine Empire, and started their advance northwards along the shores of the Black Sea all the way to Crimea. The north-south mega-trend crossed a historic milestone in the early 17th Century when the Cossacks’ raids spread along the northern shores of the Black Sea (today’s Ukraine) and culminated toward the end of the Century when the armies of Peter the Great first reached the shores of the Black Sea (Sea of Azov to be precise).
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, Russia fought a series of bitter wars with both Turkey and Persia which determined the southern borders of the Empire until the end of the 20th Century, as well as consolidated its claim to a special – if unwelcome – rôle in the Balkans. As well, Russia fought in the mid-19th Century the main European powers of the day – England and France – on the shores of the Black Sea in order to legitimize Russia’s pre-eminent rôle as a regional power. Throughout the Century, Russia also continued to suppress rebellions and insurgency in the Caucasus. Russia’s aggregate posture endured throughout the turbulent 20th Century: both World Wars and the ensuing Cold War.
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