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Report December 15, 2023

A security strategy for the Black Sea

By Atlantic Council Task Force on Black Sea Security

Table of contents

In light of increased instability in the Black Sea region following Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security‘s Transatlantic Security Initiative, in partnership with the National School of Political and Administrative Studies (SNSPA), convened a task force of Atlantic Council experts focused on discussing and developing actionable recommendations for enhancing the security and stability of the geopolitically vital Black Sea region. This report outlines the strategic setting, regional challenges and threats, key planning assumptions, risk and risk mitigation, and finally DIME (diplomatic, informational, military, and economic) based recommendations for enhancing security and stability in the Black Sea region.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has fundamentally destabilized the Black Sea region.1Neil Melvin and Natia Seskuria, “A New Security Order in the Black Sea: The Role of Georgia,” Royal United Services Institute Journal, November 2022, 1,

I. The strategic goal

An unstable Black Sea region directly threatens the peace and prosperity of the North Atlantic community, a bedrock of US foreign policy since 1945. Russian aggression in the Black Sea region threatens the security of every Black Sea state and the Euro-Atlantic region as a whole, as well as global food security, international economic stability, and the viability of international legal frameworks. These represent key and important interests for the United States, as well as Europe. A comprehensive, long-term regional strategy to cope with this new reality is urgently needed. To be coherent, it must also be nested within a broader and viable transatlantic security architecture, anchored in NATO. For the transatlantic community and the littoral Black Sea states, a desirable end state is a stable region anchored in the Euro-Atlantic community, where the sovereignty of Black Sea states is respected, international trade and commerce can flourish, and political resilience is enhanced. Getting there will require leadership, cooperation, investment, and persistence. Hard choices and a measure of boldness will be required.

II. The strategic setting

A. Overview

Since classical times, the Black Sea region has been a center of international trade and commerce, as well as a melting pot and transfer point for cultural exchange. In geostrategic terms, it served as a terminus for the Silk Road and an international crossroads, while the Bosporus and Dardanelles for centuries constituted one of the world’s most important maritime waterways. These factors made the region of strategic interest for the Greeks, the Scythians, the Persians, the Romans, the Huns, Byzantium, the Mongols, and the Seljuk, Ottoman, and Russian empires. Russia and the Ottoman Empire fought twelve wars across four centuries, largely over control of Crimea and the Black Sea, while England and France fought Russia over Crimea from 1853 to 1856 to prevent further Russian expansion in the region at the expense of a tottering Ottoman Empire.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin sought to reincorporate Ukraine into its territory and extend its dominance over the Black Sea region. Today, its control of Crimea and the northern waters of the Black Sea, although contested, gives it leverage over the Ukrainian, regional, and international economies, as well as strategic advantages for the projection of military force across the region.1Between February and May 2022, the cost of transporting dry bulk goods, such as grains, increased by nearly 60 percent, leading to a 3.7-percent increase in consumer food prices globally. “Maritime Trade Disputed: The War in Ukraine and Its Effects on Maritime Trade Logistics,” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, June 28, 2022, The states surrounding the Black Sea generate nearly $3 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP), include more than 300 million people, and “host assortments of interconnectors that facilitate trade and energy flows between Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East, and globally beyond.”2Michael Cecire, “The Black Sea: Economic Region or Intersection?” Middle East Institute, August 11, 2020, The Black Sea is a maritime conduit for much of the world’s grain supply, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has contributed markedly to rising prices for food, fuel, and fertilizer, with Russia’s invasion causing an “unprecedented shock” to the global food system.3Caitlin Welsh, “Russia, Ukraine, and Global Food Security: A One-Year Assessment,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, February 24, 2023, The Black Sea region is, thus, a critical geostrategic intersection between Europe and Asia with global importance. Instability in the Black Sea region is manifested by the fragility of its democratic systems, uneven economic performance, energy dependence, and open conflict.

B. Russia

With a warm-water port hosting the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Crimea represents a vital strategic interest for Russia. Following its occupation by Russian forces in 2014, Crimea has seen up to a million Russian immigrants, accompanied by the deportation or expulsion of much of the prewar Ukrainian population.4Alla Hurska, “Demographic Transformation of Crimea: Forced Migration as Part of Russia ‘Hybrid’ Strategy,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, March 29, 2021, The Kremlin also poured more than $10 billion into Crimea to build up its civilian and military infrastructure, highlighted by the highway and railroad bridge connecting the peninsula with the Russian mainland over the Kerch Straits.5Steven Pifer, “Crimea: Six Years after Illegal Annexation,” Brookings, March 17, 2020, This bridge was badly damaged in a Ukrainian attack in October 2022. Crimea today is heavily militarized, with strong ground, air, and naval units based there.6Ibid. Russia’s Black Sea coastline stretches some 800 kilometers (km). Russian air-defense and surface-to-surface ballistic missile systems cover virtually all of the Black Sea region, while Russian leaders have moved nuclear weapons into Belarus and threatened to use them in the conflict.7Laura Sukin, “Rattling the Nuclear Saber: What Russia’s Nuclear Threats Really Mean, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 4, 2023, Russia’s control of Black Sea shipping lanes allows it to interdict grain shipments from Ukraine, one of the world’s largest providers, seriously affecting global food security.8Edward Wong and Ana Swanson, “How Russia’s War on Ukraine Is Worsening Global Starvation,” New York Times, last updated January 5, 2023,

More broadly, the Kremlin seeks to limit or prevent the closer integration of littoral states into Western economic and security structures, and aspires to dominate former territories.9Stephen J. Flanagan, et al., “Russia, NATO, and Black Sea Security,” RAND, 2020, Moscow is determined not to cede occupied areas, as its possession ensures sea control over Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline and serves as a launching pad for future advances on the Ukrainian heartland. Chinese and Indian trade has helped to offset Western sanctions, bolstering the Russian economy.10From April to December 2022 alone, India imported $21.7 billion in Russian crude oil—17.1 percent of its total crude imports—compared to about $0.94 billion in 2020–2021, or 0.2 percent of total crude imports. See: Akriti Kalyankar and Dante Schulz, “Continental Drift? India-Russia Ties after One Year of War in Ukraine,” Stimson Center, March 9, 2023,; Laura He, “China Is Helping to Prop Up the Russian Economy. Here’s How,” CNN, February 26, 2023, More than 80 percent of Russia’s 146 million citizens are ethnic Russians, with Armenians, Chechens, Tatars, and Ukrainians making up most of the rest. Russia’s GDP of $1.8 trillion and defense budget of $66 billion are dwarfed by those of the United States ($23.3 trillion and $813 billion) and Europe (including non-European Union (EU) countries in Europe, some $18 trillion and $350 billion). Russian losses in the war to date have been enormous, and the stability of the Russian regime has been threatened by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s June 2023 aborted coup, but Putin remains determined to carry on the conflict.11Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Soaring Death Toll Gives Grim Insight into Russian Tactics,” New York Times, February 2, 2023,

C. Ukraine

For its part, Ukraine is heavily dependent on its Black Sea territories and has suffered cruelly from Russian aggression there. Along with the loss of its surface navy in 2014 and the forced deportation and dispossession of its population in Crimea, Ukraine’s economy was badly disrupted following the February 2022 invasion. With a coastline of some 1,300 km, Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain exporters and depends on commercial transit across the Black Sea.12“The most obvious goal is food security. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a surge in global food prices, dealing a heavy blow to countries already at risk of food insecurity. Ukraine has been one of the world’s largest exporters of grain, contributing 42 percent of the global share of sunflower oil, 16 percent of maize, and almost 10 percent of wheat. Not only are Ukraine’s exports essential for the stability of world markets, but Ukraine’s grain exports have also contributed greatly to the World Food Program’s humanitarian stocks, shipped regularly to such war-ridden countries as Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan.” Iliya Kusa, “The Ukraine-Russia Grain Deal: A Success or Failure?” Wilson Center, January 9, 2023, In 2022, Ukrainian grain exports fell by 30 percent, with a projected loss for 2023 of 24 percent.13“Ukraine Grain Exports Down 24% So Far in 2023/24,” Reuters, October 4, 2023, Overall GDP fell by 29.1 percent.14Wilhelmine Preussen, “Ukraine’s GDP Crashed by 29.1 Percent in Year of Russian Invasion,” Politico, April 13, 2023, Shipping disruptions have caused grain supplies to move to Poland and Hungary, depressing local farm prices and provoking commodities bans even among close allies.15“EU Warns against Unilateral Steps after Poland, Hungary Ban Ukrainian Grain,” Reuters, April 16, 2023, The United Nations Black Sea Grain Initiative, an agreement brokered by the United Nations (UN) and Turkey, partially eased these losses, but Russia abrogated the deal in July 2023 and remains largely in control of Ukrainian exports across the Black Sea.16“Russia Just Quit a Grain Deal Critical to Global Food Supply. What Happens Now?” Atlantic Council, July 17, 2023, Of Ukraine’s prewar population of 41.5 million, ethnic Ukrainians made up three-fourths of the population, while Russians were less than one-fifth. The remainder were Belarusians, Moldovans, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Roma, and Crimean Tatars. Ukraine has experienced a severe loss of population due to the war, with 5.8 million refugees and another 3.7 million forced to relocate inside the country, while its infrastructure has been badly damaged.17“Ukraine Humanitarian Response 2023I,” UN Office for Coordinating Humanitarian Assistance, last updated November 23, 2023,

A Ukrainian flag waves on Snake Island in the Black Sea., CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Western aid, a strong performance by Ukrainian forces, a resolute Ukrainian population, and excellent use of both advanced and older-generation capabilities underpin Ukraine’s successful defense, but recovering its occupied territories is more challenging without further advanced capabilities, such as combat aircraft and long-range rocket artillery. Economically and from a security standpoint, Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea leaves Ukraine a divided state, always under threat and shorn of one of its most important economic pillars.18Guy Faulconbridge, “Blood and Billions: The Cost of Russia’s War in Ukraine,” Reuters, August 23, 2023,

D. Turkey

As a major regional partner controlling access to the Black Sea through the Bosporus and Dardanelles, Turkey plays a significant role in regional security. The second-largest military power in NATO, Turkey’s 775,000-strong armed forces include 1,900 tanks, 3,100 artillery systems, 850 aircraft, and ninety-two ships.19“2023 Turkiye Military Strength,” GlobalFirepower, last visited November 30, 2023, The strongest power in the region outside of Russia, Turkey has an extensive Black Sea coastline stretching 1,329 km. Its $820-billion GDP, large population of eighty-five million people and powerful military give it impressive stature and influence in the Black Sea region. Turkey spends $16 billion, or 2.06 percent of GDP, on defense, well above the NATO average.20“Turkey Defense Market Size, Trends, Budget Allocation, Regulations, Key Acquisitions, Competitive Landscape and Forecast, 2023–2028,” Global Data, February 2023, However, in recent years, Turkey has suffered from runaway inflation and lowered living standards, circumstances that have challenged the ruling Justice and Development Party, whose victory in May 2023 presidential elections has nonetheless showcased its staying power.21“Turkey: Economic Problems and International Ambitions,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, July 2022, Both the United States and the EU have imposed economic sanctions on Turkey, contributing to a history of anti-United States and anti-EU attitudes among some of the Turkish population.22US sanctions are in response to Turkey’s acquisition of Russia’s S-400 air-defense system. The EU sanctioned Turkey for illegal drilling off the coast of Cyprus. “What Are the Sanctions on Turkey? ComplyAdvantage, last visited November 30, 2023,; Zafiris Rossidis, “Turkey and the West: A Parenthesis or a Historical Shift?” Hoover Institution, February 3, 2023, About 80 percent of the Turkish population are ethnic Turks, with the Kurdish minority accounting for most of the rest. Early in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Turkey invoked the Montreux Convention to block movement of warships, including Russian ships, through the straits. However, military aid to Russia loaded on Russian commercial ships has continued to flow.23Yoruk Isik, “Russia Is Using ‘Civilian’ Ships to Circumvent Closure of the Bosporus,” Maritime Executive, May 19, 2022,

In power since 2003 (first as prime minister and then as president), Recep Tayyip Erdogan has leveraged Turkey’s geostrategic position to emerge as a broker in the Ukraine conflict, balancing between NATO and Russia. Erdogan maintains a credibility with Putin unique among NATO leaders because of a shared resistance to what they view as Western meddling in internal affairs.24Robert E. Hamilton and Anna Mikulska, “Cooperation, Competition, and Compartmentalization: Russian-Turkish Relations and Their Implications for the West,” Foreign Policy Research Institute, April 8, 2021, Although Turkey condemned the invasion and provided the Bayraktar TB2 drone to Ukraine, it has not joined in sanctioning Russia—and, in fact, doubled its imports from Russia in 2022 (in part due to inflation), an economic relationship sustained amid financial turbulence in both countries.25“[Turkey] logged a ‘record high’ of $28.3 billion in ‘net errors and omissions’ in the first eight months of this year, likely from Russian oligarchs looking for safe places to park their wealth or from Russia’s state enterprises.” Yoruk Isik, “In Turkish-Russian Relations, The Ukraine Grain Deal Is Not the Point,”Middle East Institute, November 9, 2022, Turkey also imports almost half of its natural gas from Russia through the Bluestream and Turkstream pipelines across the Black Sea. Turkey is a regional energy actor in its own right due to its own Black Sea gas reserves, its role as a bridge for Azerbaijani gas, and its swap agreement with Bulgaria.26Victor Jack and Leyla Aksu, “Black Sea Balancing Act: Turkey’s Erdogan Treads a Fine Line on Russia,” Politico, April 5, 2022, Although sympathetic to the plight of Crimean Tatars, Erdogan is mindful of the Ottoman Empire’s difficult history with Russia and of his economic dependence on Russian energy and tourism.27Alina Polyakova, “Black Sea Security: Reviving US Policy toward the Region,” Center for European Policy Analysis, October 27, 2021, He meets regularly with Putin and has on occasion criticized European leaders for “provoking” the Russian leader.28“‘Provocations’: Erdogan Decries Western Policy towards Russia,” Al Jazeera, September 7, 2022, Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian S-400 air-defense system has angered successive US administrations, leading to its removal from the F-35 program.29Robbie Gramer and Anusha Rathi, “Turkey Is NATO’s Pivot Point over Ukraine,” Foreign Policy, November 29, 2022, Turkey, like many other countries, maintains significant economic ties to China, with $23 billion in bilateral trade annually.30Richard Weitz, “China and the Black Sea Region: A Bridge Too Far?” Middle East Institute, September 16, 2020, Erdogan was narrowly reelected in May 2023, and his history suggests he will likely maintain an approach to both domestic and external affairs that many NATO allies view as challenging, although some of his recent government appointments are considered more moderate.31Ahmett T. Kuru, “What Erdogan’s Re-Election Means for Turkey,” Asia Times, May 30, 2023,; Asli Aydintasbas, “The West Needs to Get Used to a Transactional Relationship with Turkey,” Washington Post, June 8, 2023, Overall, however, while a fractious ally, Turkey is seeking regional stability and is not a principal contributor to Black Sea insecurity.

E. Romania

Romania has a 245-km Black Sea coastline and a GDP of $285 billion, casts a wary eye on Russian aggression in the region, and has raised Black Sea security continuously since 2014 in NATO circles. Less than 400 km from Sevastopol, Romania is a frontline state bordering Russian air and maritime forces; its aircraft are within range of Russian air defense upon takeoff. With a current defense budget of some $6 billion and defense spending at 2.5 percent of GDP, it has increased defense spending substantially each year since 2016, but still relies on NATO security guarantees to offset Russian aggression in the region.32“U.S. Aerospace and Defense Trade Mission to Romania and Poland November 12-17, 2023,” International Trade Administration, Claiming territorial waters out to 12 miles and an exclusive economic zone to 200 miles, Romania fields modest air and naval forces, although its army can field four hundred tanks and 1,200 artillery pieces.33Siemon Wezeman and Alexandra Kuimova, “Romania and Black Sea Security,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, December 2018, Force modernization is well under way; Romania currently fields a squadron of F-16s and small numbers of Patriot air-defense systems, HIMARS launchers, Piranha armored personnel carriers, and Turkish and Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Current plans call for Romania to procure more F-16s and Patriot launchers, fifty-four 155-milimeter (mm) self-propelled artillery howitzers, 298 infantry fighting vehicles, and fifty-four US Abrams main battle tanks. A five-thousand-man NATO brigade (Multinational Brigade Southeast) built around Romanian troops with some augmentation is stationed in Craiova, while a US combat brigade was deployed to Romania following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.34Lara Jakes, “U.S. Extends Troop Deployment in Romania, at Ukraine War’s Doorstep,” New York Times, January 21, 2023, Romania’s modest 6,500-strong navy is based at Constanta, the largest EU port on the Black Sea, and in Mangalia near the Bulgarian coast.35The Romanian navy includes three frigates, four corvettes, three missile corvettes, three torpedo boats, one minelayer, four minesweepers, three river monitors, and other small auxiliary ships. “The Military Balance 2023,”International Institute for Strategic Studies, 140–141, In 2015, the US Aegis ballistic-missile defense system was fielded at the Romanian air base at Deveselu. NATO forces also provide air patrols to help secure Romanian airspace.

A view of the cereal terminal with grain silo in the Black Sea port of Constanta, Romania, May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Olimpiu Gheorghiu

Had Russia succeeded in overrunning Ukraine in the spring of 2022, Russian forces would have been situated on the Romanian frontier. With a population of nineteen million and large, untapped energy reserves on its seabed, Romania is largely energy independent, providing most of its own energy needs through a combination of domestic oil, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric, and nuclear power.36“Romania Finally Set to Make the Most of Its Vast Black Sea Gas Reserves,” Emerging Europe, April 20, 2022,; “Romania: Country Commercial Guide,” International Trade Administration, July 27, 2022, Ethnic Romanians comprise almost 90 percent of the population, while 6.5 percent are Hungarians. Continued stationing of NATO troops and improved coastal defenses—above all, anti-ship missile systems and air defense—constitute Romania’s most urgent security needs. Increasingly prosperous and firmly embedded in NATO and the EU, Romania is staunchly pro-Western and a stable anchor in the region.

F. Bulgaria

Like Turkey, Bulgaria is largely dependent on Russian energy and trade. One of the poorest countries in Europe, with a GDP of $84 billion and seven million citizens, Bulgaria is challenged by a declining population, endemic corruption, poor infrastructure, and high indebtedness on the part of state-owned businesses, especially in the energy sector.37“Bulgaria Now Europe’s 6th Poorest Country with GDP per Capita at 12.77 Euro,” Business Standard, November 27, 2023, Although Bulgaria is a member of NATO and the EU, pro-Moscow elements in its governing coalition have sought to prevent Bulgaria from providing meaningful support to Ukraine even as it has armed Ukraine quietly.38Jon Henley, “Bulgaria Secretly Supplied Ukraine Fuel and Ammunition in Early Months of War,” Guardian, January 18, 2023, The pro-Moscow elements have also tried to ensure continuing dependence on Russian oil and gas, even as Russia abruptly cut off gas exports to Bulgaria in the spring of 2022.39Marek Strzelecki, Tsvetelia Tsolova, and Pavel Polityuk, “Russia Halts Gas Supplies to Poland and Bulgaria,” Reuters, April 27, 2022, Bulgarian politics remain unstable, with a significant part of Bulgaria’s civil population maintaining a cautiously favorable attitude about Russia, though the invasion of Ukraine has shaken this trend.40Flanagan, et al., “Russia, NATO, and Black Sea Security,” 83; Stoyan Nenov, “Bulgaria Set for Tough Coalition Talks after Fifth Inconclusive Election,” Reuters, April 3, 2023, Poised between Europe, Russia, and Turkey, Bulgaria must balance these perspectives and navigate cautiously.41“Although there has been a pro-Euro-Atlantic majority in all elected parliaments over the past two years, the leading political parties have failed to form a stable government, leaving power in the hands of a succession of caretaker governments with clear links to Kremlin-controlled oligarchic networks.” “Seizing the Moment: Will Bulgaria Establish a Euro-Atlantic Government after the Parliamentary Elections?” Center for the Study of Democracy, April 3, 2023, Corruption, indirect Russian influence, and military weakness relative to its neighbors all complicate Bulgarian security planning, which is above all based on NATO’s Article 5 guarantees. While the country has 378 km of Black Sea coastline, and defense spending of 1.7 percent of GDP, the Bulgarian military includes fewer than one hundred tanks and fifty combat aircraft. In February 2022, NATO pledged to field a multinational battlegroup of 1,500 soldiers in Bulgaria. As in Romania, coastal and air defenses are urgent priorities. Eighty-five percent of Bulgaria’s population are ethnic Bulgarians, with about 10 percent of Turkish origin.

G. Moldova

With a shared history and culture, the Republic of Moldova has a special relationship with neighboring Romania. Like its neighbors, Moldova finds itself a target of Russian imperial ambitions as a former part of the Russian empire. Russian troops have garrisoned Transnistria, essentially the Dniester River valley in the northeast part of the country, ever since intervening in the Transnistrian War in 1992. They are backed by Transnistria’s 5,500 active and twenty thousand reserve troops, all poorly trained and equipped. The region remains sovereign Moldovan territory under international law, but is a de facto breakaway Russian statelet like Abkhazia in Georgia. (Russia firmly pledged to withdraw these troops on several occasions, but those pledges were never honored.)42“The 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Decisions on Moldova and Georgia: Prospects for Implementation,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Kennan Institute, December 2002, The Cobasna ammunition depot, located in Transnistria, is the largest in Europe and stores twenty thousand tons of ammunition left in place when the Soviet 14th Guards Army departed after the collapse of the USSR. Moldova has a tiny GDP of $14 billion (0.41 percent of which is spent on defense) and a population of 3.3 million, while its military totals 6,500 troops equipped with dated Soviet-era equipment. Its greatest security concern is the threat of a Russian land bridge through Odesa and southern Ukraine connecting with Transnistria. Heavily dependent on imported Russian energy before the war, Moldova has pivoted to neighboring Romania as its energy provider.43“Romania Provides 80%-90% of Moldova’s Energy Needs—Minister,” Reuters, November 21, 2022, The European Council decided to open accession negotiations for EU membership for Moldova in December 2023, even as there exists significant pro-Moscow sentiment in some areas, such as Gaugazia.44Vladimir Solovyov, “Ukraine War Risks Repercussions for Transnistria,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 23, 2022, The European Council conclusions on Ukraine, enlargement and reforms,” European Council, press release, December 14, 2023, “Moldova’s security relies on being able to procure gas and generate electricity, otherwise domestic destabilisation, through Russian Hybrid operations, is most likely, and Transnistria may be next in the cross hairs of Russia.” Bernard Siman, “No Security for Ukraine or Europe without a Secure Black Sea and Mediterranean,”Royal Institute for International Relations, December 6, 2022, Russian attempts to destabilize Moldova’s staunchly pro-NATO, pro-EU government remain a real threat, despite determined efforts at pushback by President Maia Sandu.45Tony Wesolowsky, “Vulnerable, Volatile Moldova Could Be the Kremlin’s Next Target. It Could Also Be Just Another Distraction,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 3, 2023, Moldova has no Black Sea coastline except for the small international river port of Giurgiulesti on the Danube. About three-fourths of Moldova’s population are ethnic Moldovans, with smaller populations of Romanians, Ukrainians, Russians, Gagauz, Roma, and Bulgarians.

H. Georgia

Like that of others in the region, Georgia’s security is inextricably bound to the threat from neighboring Russia. To prevent Georgia’s closer integration with the West following the 2003 Rose Revolution and 2008 Bucharest Summit declaration that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually become members of NATO, Russian forces invaded in the fall of 2008 and continue to occupy 20 percent of Georgia’s landmass in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, depriving Georgia of two-thirds of its Black Sea coastline.46Melvin and Seskuria, “A New Security Order in the Black Sea.” Largely dependent on foreign energy, Georgia imports most of its needs from readily available, cheaper Azerbaijani reserves. However, Russian involvement in the Georgian economy has spiked since the invasion of Ukraine, raising Georgia’s dependence on Russia to alarming levels.47“Georgia’s growing economic dependence on Russia constitutes a threat to the country, as Russia has repeatedly utilized economic relations to politically leverage independent countries.” “Georgia’s Economic Dependence on Russia: Impact of the Russia-Ukraine War,” Transparency International, February 22, 2023, The current government is dominated by the Georgian Dream party, which many critics in Georgia, Europe, and the United States believe is sensitive to Moscow’s alignment against the West. Georgian Dream continues to court Moscow despite overwhelming popular support in Georgia for greater relations with the West, particularly the European Union.48Anastasia Mgaloblishvili, “Russia’s Clandestine Victory in Georgia,” Visegrad Insight, March 9, 2023, While Georgia has been a NATO partner since 1994, its accession to NATO was deferred indefinitely. This encouraged pro-Moscow political forces, although the civilian population continues to support both NATO and EU membership.49Since 2008, popular support for Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration has risen to an all-time high. According to a recent opinion poll conducted by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in 2021, 80 percent of Georgians expressed their support for Georgia’s EU membership (up from 76 percent in 2020), while 74 percent of the population supported NATO integration (up from 69 percent in 2020). Natia Seskuria, “Russia’s ‘Hybrid Aggression’ against Georgia: The Use of Local and External Tools,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, September 21, 2021, The European Council in December 2023 granted candidate status to Georgia in line with the European Commission’s recommendations from November 2023—a major development for pro-Western forces in Georgia.50“The European Council conclusions on Ukraine, enlargement and reforms,” European Council, press release, December 14, 2023, About four-fifths of the population of Georgia are ethnic Georgians; the rest are Armenians, Russians, and Azerbaijanis, with smaller numbers of Ossetians, Greeks, Abkhazians, and others. Russia’s economic isolation due to sanctions has amplified the importance of other oil pipelines transiting Georgia. If completed, the long-proposed deep-water port at Anaklia could promote Georgia as a regional logistics hub and encourage foreign investment. With a GDP of $19 billion, a population of four million, and a small but experienced military with fewer than forty thousand soldiers, 134 operational tanks, 150 artillery pieces, and eleven combat aircraft, Georgia spends 1.7 percent of GDP on defense. It faces a serious conundrum: it must garner security guarantees from NATO and more powerful neighbors, or accommodate Russia.

I. China

As an extension of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has deepened its investment and diplomatic presence in the Black Sea region in recent years, opening new markets and building infrastructure to connect with Europe and the Middle East. It has also propped up the Russian economy since the invasion; overall trade between Russia and China increased by 30 percent in 2022, oil sales by 45 percent, coal purchases by 54 percent, and natural-gas sales by 155 percent.51Laura He, “China Is Helping to Prop Up the Russian Economy—Here’s How,” CNN, February 26, 2023, During the conflict, China has pressured Russia to honor the Black Sea Grain Initiative (China is the major beneficiary of the deal), criticized Russian nuclear threats, and withheld arms deliveries to Russia.52Stuart Lau, “China’s Xi Warns Putin Not to Use Nuclear Arms in Ukraine,” Politico, November 4, 2022,; Christina Lu, “China Won’t Let Russia Starve the World,” Foreign Policy, May 17, 2023, After an initial surge beginning in 2000, Chinese foreign direct investment has fallen off and several high-profile initiatives, such as a joint project to build nuclear reactors in Romania, have been curtailed. Its military presence in the region is negligible, while intense East-West competition and US pressure on littoral states have prevented close economic ties. China has not prioritized the region and, at the present time, is not a major player in Black Sea regional dynamics.53Weitz, “China and the Black Sea Region—A Bridge Too Far?” That could change, but for now China has other, higher priorities.

III. Regional challenges and threats

A. Overview

Black Sea states are principally challenged by Russian malign activity, energy dependence, political fragility, and economic underperformance. Previous attempts to solve regional disputes and address security threats through diplomacy—via the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of the Black Sea Cooperation (BSEC), the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, the 2008 Bucharest Summit Declaration, Minsk I 2014 and Minsk II in 2015, the Normandy format, and various bilateral diplomatic overtures, among others—all failed due to Russian intransigence and territorial ambitions. Opportunities exist for stabilizing the Black Sea region and improving the economies and political stability of Black Sea states, but most require amelioration of the Russian threat. Until then, the Black Sea will remain a conflict zone and progress will remain elusive.

Black Sea states are principally challenged by Russian malign activity, energy dependence, political fragility, and economic underperformance.

Black Sea, satellite image, May 2004.
Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

B. Russian malign activity

As of 2023, Russia maintains a military presence in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova that promotes instability and provides leverage for subversion and disinformation. Most of Russia’s ground forces are deployed in Ukraine, along with sizable national-guard units for occupation duties.54These include all eleven combined-arms armies, its only tank army, and all airborne/air assault and naval infantry formations. Ben Hodges, R. D. Hooker Jr., and Julian Lindley-French, “Where Is the Russian Army?” Alphen Group, March 24, 2022, The Russian Black Sea Fleet has largely withdrawn from its historic base in Sevastopol in Crimea to Novorossiysk, due to Ukrainian missile and drone attacks.55The Black Sea Fleet order of battle includes five guided-missile frigates (two of which were damaged), four corvettes (two damaged), six Kilo-class diesel attack submarines, five amphibious assault ships (two damaged), and assorted anti-submarine, coastal patrol, and minesweeping craft. The flagship, the cruiser Moskva, was sunk in 2022. Most of the fleet was withdrawn to Novorossiysk in October 2023. Peter Dickenson, “Putin’s Fleet Retreats: Ukraine is Winning the Battle of the Black Sea,” The Atlantic Council, October 4, 2023, Since the loss of the flagship Moskva in April 2022 and the sinking of several other ships due to Ukrainian anti-ship missiles (in addition to damaging attacks on fleet headquarters and naval aviation bases in Crimea), the fleet has remained largely at anchor, although occasional Kalibr missiles have been launched from submarines.56Heather Mongilio, “Russia, Ukraine in Black Sea Stalemate a Year into Russo-Ukraine Conflict,” USNI News, February 23, 2023, Despite heavy manpower and equipment losses, Russia retains control of most of the Donbas and Crimea, while Putin seems determined to continue the conflict and weaken Ukrainian and Western resolve.57Conservative estimates put Russian tank losses at 2,404, almost the entire pre-invasion total. Isabel van Brugen, “Ukraine Celebrates Russia Losing ‘5,000 Tanks’ in War,” Newsweek, October 20, 2023, Russian casualties are estimated at approximately 300,000 killed, wounded, missing, and captured to date. Helene Cooper, et al., “Troop Deaths and Injuries in Ukraine War Near 500,000, U.S. Officials Say,” New York Times, August 18, 2023, On several occasions, Russian leaders have announced the movement or alert of nuclear systems as a form of intimidation.58Shannon Bugos, “Putin Orders Russian Nuclear Weapons on Higher Alert,” Arms Control Association, March 2022,

In Georgia, 4,500 Russian soldiers and border guards are based at Gudauta in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali in South Ossetia (although some units were redeployed to Ukraine to replace losses).59Zaal Anjaparidze, “Russia Redeploys Troops From Its Bases in Georgia to Ukraine” Eurasia Daily Monitor 19 42, (2022), Another 1,500 are based in Transnistria, the breakaway Moldovan statelet. In each case, local conscripts provide the bulk of forces, led by Russian officers and augmented by small separatist forces armed and equipped by Russia. The presence of Russian troops serves to prevent reintegration of occupied territories, promote separatist movements and narratives, intimidate host-nation governments and their armed forces, and inhibit integration with the West.

The Russian military is far from the only threat. Russian malign activity—propaganda, disinformation, and subversion—is directed against all Black Sea states, with varying degrees of success. A regular tactic is sponsorship and funding of pro-Moscow, anti-Western parties, politicians, and movements through front companies, offshore accounts, and funneling of money to media and public-opinion influencers. Outright bribery and corruption feature prominently. Cyberattacks, particularly against energy infrastructure, are frequent and effective. Countering Russian hybrid approaches must, therefore, be central to any regional strategy.60Arnold C. Dupuy, “How NATO Can Keep Pace with Hybrid Threats in the Black Sea Region and Beyond,” Atlantic Council, January 4, 2023,

C. Energy dependence

Across the Black Sea region, as in Europe, Russia has used energy dependence as both a tool and a weapon to pressure and influence its neighbors. The war has weakened that weapon substantially. Following the occupation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine ceased its imports from Russia and now relies on imports from Central and Eastern Europe.61“Historically, Ukraine has received the majority of its natural gas imports from Russia. However, following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, Ukraine halted direct natural gas imports from Russia and replaced those imports with natural gas from European countries. Much of the natural gas imported from Europe, however, originates in Russia and travels into Ukraine through reverse flows from central and eastern European countries.” “Ukraine,” US Energy Information Agency, last visited November 30, 2023, Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure have damaged, but not crippled, its capacity. Romania is largely insulated from dependence on Russian energy through a combination of domestic production of natural gas (Romania is the European Union’s second-largest producer), renewables, hydropower, and nuclear power.62B. F. G. Fabrègue, “Romanian Energy Sector: How Current Events Foster Development,” Blue Europe, December 8, 2022, Romania is also investing in small modular nuclear reactors and is conducting feasibility studies on an undersea interconnector for transporting green energy from Azerbaijan to Hungary.63“The United States and Multinational Public-Private Partners Look to Provide Up to $275 Million to Advance the Romania Small Modular Reactor Project; United States Issues Letters of Interest for Up to $4 Billion in Project Financing,” US Department of State, press release, May 20, 2023, Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Romania imported 30 percent of its oil from Russia, but today it imports from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Saudi Arabia instead.64[1] Bogdan Neagu, “Romania Ready to Give Up Russian Oil,” EURACTIV, May 4, 2022,

Turkey benefits from buying cheap Russian oil, refining it, and selling it on the world market at higher prices.65“Turkey, which has huge refining capacity, is buying record levels of cut-rate Russian crude, refining it on its own shores and then legally labeling the finished product as Turkish in origin and selling it at the global market rate.”  Patricia Cohen, “Turkey Is Strengthening Its Energy Ties With Russia,” New York Times, December 12, 2022,  Forced to import more than 90 percent of its energy needs, Turkey has increased its energy reliance on Russia significantly since February 2022.66“Since the outset of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Turkey has become one of the biggest importers of Russian hydrocarbons and coal.” Natalia Konarzewska,Turkey Will Not Give Up on Its Lucrative Trade with Russia,” Turkey Analyst, June 26, 2023, Although alternate energy sources are readily available, for now Turkey continues to exploit its favored trade relationship with Russia in the energy sector. Through its control of the Bosporus, Turkey can deny passage of liquified natural-gas (LNG) ships on security grounds, contributing to the absence of an LNG terminal in the Black Sea.67“Romania: Country Commercial Guide.”

Moldova, Bulgaria, and Georgia are also heavily dependent on imported energy. Moldova has struggled to wean itself following Russian cutoffs and price increases following the invasion of Ukraine and is pursuing alternatives, principally through Azerbaijani and Romanian energy supplies.68Grzegorz Kuczyński, “Moldova Is Becoming Independent of Russian Gas Flows,” Warsaw Institute, December 22, 2022, Through early 2022, Bulgaria imported 77 percent of its natural gas from Russia, which also owned Bulgaria’s only oil refinery. Following the April 2022 cutoff by Gazprom, Bulgaria has also pivoted to Azerbaijani energy running through Turkish and Greek pipelines.69Tony Wesolowsky, “Despite Doomsday Predictions, Bulgaria Proves There Is Life after Russian Gas,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 20, 2022, Its local nuclear and coal resources offset the need for imported natural gas, even as gas is still fueling important parts of the economy. Georgia is almost 100-percent dependent on imports for natural gas—its main energy source—obtained primarily from Azerbaijan, while its dependence on Russian energy is modest (though spiking substantially from 2018 to 2022).70“Georgia’s Economic Dependence on Russia.” Overall, the war in Ukraine has spurred energy independence from Russia across the region, except for Turkey. If exploited, Black Sea energy reserves have the potential to free the region from dependence on Russia altogether, making the Black Sea a major energy hub.71Estimates predict that the Ukrainian shelf may contain more than two trillion cubic meters of gas, Turkey 405 billion cubic meters (bcm), Romania up to 200 bcm, Bulgaria 100 bcm, and Georgia 266 bcm. Aura Sabadus, “Why the Black Sea Could Emerge as the World’s Next Great Energy Battleground,” Atlantic Council, March 30, 2021,

D. Economic underperformance

Uneven economic growth and lower standards of living continue to affect Black Sea states, contributing to instability. Endemic corruption, a legacy of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact era, is persistent and difficult to eradicate. While Romania and Bulgaria are EU members, all Black Sea states except Turkey are excluded from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), while only Bulgaria and Romania are members of the Three Seas Initiative.72The Three Seas Initiative “creates a political platform to promote connectivity among nations in Central and Eastern Europe by supporting infrastructure, energy, and digital interconnectivity projects. The initiative gets its name from the three seas that border the region: the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic Seas. The twelve states that are part of the initiative are Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.” David A. Wemer, The Three Seas Initiative Explained, Atlantic Council, February 11, 2019, Therefore, Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine suffer from a lack of economic integration with the West.

Russia’s economy shrank by 2.5 percent in 2022 due to global sanctions, capital flight, and a drop in exports—a much better showing than expected.73Kirill Rogov, “Russia’s 2022 Economic Anomaly,” Wilson Center, February 17, 2023, $300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves—almost half of the total—are held by entities participating in sanctions (the United States, the United Kingdom (UK), Japan, Canada, and the EU) and sequestered. Still, Russia is energy and agriculture independent and, in the words of one expert, its economy “will take a lot of killing.”74Rick Waddell, former deputy national security adviser, author interview, June 2022. Russia will not be an economic powerhouse for decades, if ever, but as a strongly centralized autocracy with vast natural resources, its economy has shown resilience under stress.

Ukraine’s economy has contracted by approximately one-third due to Russian aggression on its territory, though Western aid has partially offset these losses.75Total aid of all kinds for 2022, as appropriated by the US Congress, was $113 billion. The EU has contributed $58 billion, with another $30.5 billion coming from the IMF, World Bank, UK, Norway, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Switzerland. China and India have contributed nothing to Ukraine. See: “Congress Approved $113 Billion of Aid to Ukraine in 2022,” Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, January 5, 2023, Its armed forces, infrastructure repair, and displaced population require financial support that might otherwise go to economic development. The completion of Nord Stream 2 threatened to deprive Ukraine of up to $3 billion per year in lost transit fees.76Anders Aslund, “What Will the Impact Be If Nord Stream 2 Is Completed?” Atlantic Council, April 27, 2021, Should the war evolve into a protracted frozen conflict, Ukraine’s economy will suffer more negative growth and will require extensive foreign assistance. Without massive external help, Ukraine’s post-conflict reconstruction needs will also serve as a brake on economic growth.77“Ukraine Recovery and Reconstruction Needs Estimated $349 Billion,” World Bank, September 9, 2022,

Turkey’s economic problems are also serious, with inflation projected at 58 percent for 2023, exacerbated by rising commodity prices linked to the conflict in Ukraine.78“Inflation in Turkey Jumps to 59%,” Euronews, April 9, 2023, The catastrophic earthquakes of February 2023 and the costs associated with hosting millions of refugees from the Iraq and Syrian civil wars have worsened the economic crisis. War in Ukraine has also hampered the economies of Moldova, Bulgaria, and Georgia, which number among Europe’s smallest. Moldova ranks fortieth of forty-four countries in Europe in economic freedom, with “below potential” economic performance and weak rule of law hindering economic development.79“2023 Index of Economic Freedom: Moldova,” Heritage Foundation, last visited November 30, 2023, Bulgaria has seen slowed economic growth following the invasion of Ukraine due to rising energy costs and high inflation, while structural reforms to improve investor confidence and the overall economy are needed.80“Bulgaria,” OECD Economic Outlook 2022, 2 (2022), Georgia’s economy faces similar structural problems; 53 percent of its citizens live in poverty, while weak productivity and limited human capital work against strong economic growth.81“The World Bank in Georgia,” World Bank, 2022, In recent years, Georgia’s GDP grew by about 4 percent annually, but high unemployment and inflation approaching 11 percent in 2022 hindered a rise in the standard of living, along with a radically unequal distribution of wealth.

E. Fragile democracies

The journey toward stable, functioning democracy and the rule of law has been a challenging one for most of the Black Sea region. Corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, intra-regional conflict, and the lack of democratic political culture have all hampered the pace and scale of democratic transition, a process opposed by Moscow through both direct and indirect means.82Franz-Lothar Altmann, Johann Deimel, and Armando Garcia Schmidt, “Democracy and Good Governance in the Black Sea Region,” Bertelsmann Stifung, 2010, EU member status has helped Romania and Bulgaria by incentivizing progress toward democratic institutions and processes, although both remain outside the EU Schengen Area.83Matthew Karnitschnig, “Austria Sticking to Veto on Schengen Expansion, Foreign Minister Says,” Politico, April 27, 2023, The European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Moldova and Ukraine and award Georgia with candidate status.84Jessica Parker et al, “EU to open membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova,” BBC, December 14, 2023,
Sergiy Sydorenko, “Ukraine Be Deprived of EU Candidacy without Reforms: Details of the Commission Opinion,” European Pravda, June 18, 2022,
Turkey is a special case; EU membership has been stalled for years because of uneasy relations between Ankara and Brussels, watering down these incentives and limiting EU influence. While a multiparty system still exists, suppression of journalists, politicization of the courts, erosion of the rule of law, and consolidation of power in the president’s office have all moved Turkey away from the path of liberal democracy.85Kemal Kirisci and Amanda Sloat, “The Rise and Fall of Liberal Democracy in Turkey: Implications for the West,” Brookings, February 2019,

IV. Key planning assumptions

In the absence of certainty, a sound strategy depends on accurate planning assumptions. For the Black Sea region, the following assumptions support this strategy. As events unfold, policymakers should constantly revisit their assumptions at critical decision points.

  • Strong US leadership will be needed to achieve stability and security in the Black Sea region, with NATO and the EU as key actors.
  • The conflict in Ukraine, if allowed to degenerate into a frozen conflict, will encourage instability, disruption of trade, and the threat of further Russian military aggression.
  • A strategy for Black Sea security should be nested in a broader European security architecture, with NATO as the foundation.
  • Russian strategic objectives reach beyond Ukraine; Putin seeks to confront NATO and recover former Russian territories where possible and weaken the Alliance from within.
  • The interdiction of Ukrainian grain and other agricultural products in the Black Sea will continue to disrupt the Ukrainian, regional, and global economies, contributing markedly to an international food crisis.
  • For littoral states, energy independence from Russia is critical to forming more stable security arrangements.
  • Foreign investment in the Black Sea region will require security guarantees (NATO or bilateral) and a predictable and transparent business environment to assure return on investment.
  • Economic progress and an increase in standards of living are needed to stabilize weaker littoral states politically.
  • Stability in the Black Sea region will require active and coordinated measures to defeat Russian subversion and disinformation.
  • Turkey will likely remain a difficult, though critical, ally, and will seek to balance between Russia and the West while Erdogan remains in power.

V. Risks and risk mitigation

The most serious risk with respect to the Black Sea region is Russian escalation in response to more aggressive Western sanctions, military support, or military action. Escalation can take many forms, including a complete cutoff of energy supplies to Europe, more serious cyberattacks, greater restrictions on both Russian and Ukrainian exports of grain and other commodities like fertilizer, attacks on undersea pipelines and telecommunications cables, more severe missile attacks on Ukrainian urban and infrastructure targets, horizontal escalation, and— most serious of all—use of nuclear or chemical weapons.86R. D. Hooker, Jr., “Climbing the Ladder: How the West Can Manage Escalation in Ukraine and Beyond,” Atlantic Council, April 21, 2022,

All forms of escalation, however, carry risks for Putin’s regime, and none offer the promise of a decisive, positive outcome. Europe has made progress in weaning itself from Russian energy, and a complete cutoff by Russia would diminish a major source of income during a time of serious economic distress. Increased pressure on grain shipments can generate leverage for Russia, but it also contributes to further diplomatic isolation and the development of alternate sources of supply. Offensive cyberattacks against Western powers might be painful but would provoke instant, and probably unbearable, cyber retaliation.87Gavin Wilde, “Cyber Operations in Ukraine: Russia’s Unmet Expectations,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, December 12, 2022, Russia is already pounding Ukrainian cities with long-range missile attacks, but its stock of precision-guided weapons (above all the Kalibr) is rapidly dwindling with little hope of resupply, while Ukrainian morale and basic services remain intact.88Douglas Barrie and Joseph Dempsey, “Russia’s Missile Inventories: KITCHEN Use Points to Dwindling Stocks,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, July 12, 2022,

The greatest fear—Russian use of nuclear weapons—has been threatened on multiple occasions by the country’s leaders. That use might include detonation of one or several tactical nuclear weapons in an effort to “escalate to de-escalate” the Ukraine conflict. Nonetheless, any nuclear use by Russia would entail major consequences for Moscow.89“Nor would using nuclear weapons serve [Russia] well. A nuclear attack would likely prompt NATO to enter the war directly and decimate Russian positions throughout Ukraine. It could also alienate China and India, both of which have warned Russia against the use of nuclear weapons.” Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan, “The West Needs a New Strategy in Ukraine,” Foreign Affairs, April 13, 2023, It could lead to direct NATO involvement on the ground, at sea, and in the air; the imposition of the fullest range of harsh economic sanctions; offensive cyber operations targeting critical Russian nodes and government operations; loss of support from China, India, and other key powers; focused retaliation, such as the destruction of the Black Sea Fleet; large-scale provision of systems and munitions (HIMARS/MLRS, ATACMS, main battle tanks, combat aircraft) hitherto denied or restricted; large-scale, direct attacks by Ukrainian forces on Russian soil; and other severe measures.90Eric Schlosser, “What If Russia Uses Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine?” Atlantic, June 20, 2022, On balance, the probability that Russia will employ nuclear weapons is less likely than not, given the severity of expected responses, the risk of uncontrolled escalation, and Chinese reaction.91Karolina Hird, et al., “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment,” Institute for the Study of War, February 28, 2023, Strategic nuclear deterrence has held firm for many decades and remains grounded in the prospect of immediate retaliation with unacceptable levels of destruction. Absent a direct threat to the survival of the state, Russian leaders should be deterred from running these risks in Ukraine.92“Russian nuclear use would therefore be a massive gamble for limited gains that would not achieve Putin’s stated war aims.” See: Mason Clark, Katherine Lawlor, and Kateryna Stepanenko, “Assessing Putin’s Implicit Nuclear Threats after Annexation,” Institute for the Study of War, September 30. 2022,; William Alberque, “Russia Is Unlikely to Use Nuclear Weapons,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, October 10, 2022,

M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) vehicles with the 1st Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery Regiment, Kentucky Army National Guard participating in Saber Strike 18 execute a fire mission at Bemoko Piskie, Poland, June 14, 2018. US Army photo by Charles Rosemond.

Horizontal escalation outside the Black Sea region is also possible, but not likely. Almost all of Russia’s land forces are engaged in Ukraine, and any attack on NATO territory will draw the Alliance into the conflict directly. Russian resources, both financial and military, are overstretched and cannot be ramped up for major operations elsewhere. Extending the conflict beyond the Black Sea region would also bring powerful military forces to bear against Russia at other key points on its periphery, without corresponding gains.

On other fronts, Putin may hope to fracture NATO and EU cohesion by exploiting fissures in the Alliance’s approach to Black Sea issues. Currently, the Baltic States, the Nordics, the UK, Romania, and Poland support stronger responses to Russian aggression in the Black Sea region and are more receptive to expedited accession pathways for Black Sea states. The United States, Turkey, France, Italy, Germany, and the EU, along with some other countries, oppose “fast-track” membership and some are more open to a negotiated settlement that might leave Russia in possession of some Ukrainian, Moldovan, and Georgian territory.93Missy Ryan and Emily Rauhala, “NATO Races to Bridge Divisions over Ukraine Membership,” Washington Post, May 14, 2023, Over time, donor fatigue and competing interests like China, climate change, and domestic politics could widen these fissures, creating opportunities for Putin to split off support for Black Sea initiatives.

Relatedly, leadership changes among key NATO and EU nations might also fracture Western unity. Should a more isolationist president take office in 2025, US support for Ukraine and the Black Sea region could be adversely affected. The collapse of coalition governments in Germany and Italy, or the accession of pro-Moscow leadership in Moldova, Georgia, or Bulgaria are other examples. Regime collapse in Russia is also possible, with consequences that could either soften or harden Russian behavior in the region.94R. D. Hooker, Jr., “The West Should Not Fear the Prospect of a Post-Putin Russia,” Atlantic Council, September 26, 2022, While common interests and common values will remain the foundation of transatlantic relations, abrupt course changes could follow future electoral outcomes and should be considered.

Mitigating these risks rests, first and foremost, on both nuclear and conventional deterrence. The 2022 US Nuclear Posture Review reaffirmed that a “safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent undergirds all U.S. national defense priorities,” and supported upgrades to the nuclear triad.95“The nuclear weapons modernization programs include the Sentinel Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program (formerly known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent) to replace the Minuteman III ICBM; the COLUMBIA-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) to replace the OHIO-class SSBN; the W93 program to produce a new warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM); B-52H bomber modernization; the B-21 bomber to replace the B2A Spirit long-range bomber; the long-range standoff cruise missile to replace the air-launched cruise missile (ALCM); and the W76-2 low yield SLBM warhead. The NPR also announces retirement of the B-83-1 gravity bomb and cancelation of the nuclear-armed Sea-Launched Cruise Missile program.” “2022 Nuclear Posture Review,” Congressional Research Service, December 6, 2022, NATO’s Dual-Capable Aircraft (DCA) program combines trained aircrew, tactical aircraft capable of delivering nuclear munitions, and US-provided B-61 series nuclear gravity bombs stored in several NATO countries to provide deterrence options below the strategic threshold.96Seven allies contribute dual-capable aircraft and crews: the United States, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and Greece. Hans Kristensen, “NATO Steadfast Noon Exercise and Nuclear Modernization in Europe,” Federation of American Scientists, October 17, 2022, France and the UK also possess small numbers of strategic nuclear weapons. Together, these components represent a survivable, flexible nuclear capability with both strategic and tactical components that can deliver massive retaliation after an attack, ensuring a stable nuclear deterrent.

Conventionally, the NATO Alliance possesses far greater military strength than Russia, though readiness and interoperability are concerns.97R. D. Hooker, Jr., “The State of NATO: An American View,” Survival 64, 3 (2022), 103–113, Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, sizable NATO ground forces were deployed to the eastern flank (including Romania and Bulgaria), although air and naval forces have not been materially increased. High Russian losses mean that further military aggression in the Black Sea region is less likely in the near future, though subversion and hybrid activities will continue. While Russia retains control of Crimea, Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, instability in the Black Sea region will persist. For the near to middle term, NATO ground forces deployed to the region should deter Russian aggression, while security assistance to threatened Black Sea states can help them both deter and defend themselves should deterrence fail.

In selecting options to stabilize the Black Sea region, decision-makers should manage risk and balance the desire for concrete and positive outcomes with the need to preserve Alliance unity and avoid escalation across the nuclear threshold. Here the right mix of firmness, boldness, and discretion will be key. This suggests that introducing NATO ground troops into the conflict, or actions directed at regime change or the dismemberment of the Russian state, go too far. A Russian military failure in Ukraine presents opportunities to solve a range of regional security issues by leveraging sanctions relief and reintegration into the global economy in exchange for removal of Russian forces from occupied territories.98“A process of abandoning Putin’s imperialistic dreams in favor of a strategy of economic modernization will likely extend well into a post-Putin era in Russia.” John Teftt, Bruce McClintock, and Khrystyna Holynska, “From Gatherer of Lands to Gravedigger: A Political Assessment of Putin’s War on Ukraine,” RAND, February 13, 2023, Even partial Russian success will threaten NATO and EU cohesion as member states differ between accommodation and confrontation. The longer the war continues, the greater the chance that support for Ukraine and for sanctions may degrade, enabling a frozen conflict, continued instability, and the prospect of further aggression downstream. These outcomes will be complicated by other crises, such as the current confrontation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which can only divert attention and resources from Ukraine.

VI. Discussion and recommendations

An effective Black Sea strategy should seek to address and solve the root causes of instability, not nibble at their margins. If Ukraine is successful in ejecting Russian forces from its territory, opportunities exist for diplomacy to create new conditions to stabilize the region by offering sanctions relief based on positive Russian behavior. These include the removal of Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova; a restart of arms-control negotiations; closer economic integration of Black Sea states with the West and a corresponding increase in prosperity and standards of living; stronger democratic institutions and political stability; a reduction in energy dependence on Russia; and a relaxation of tensions and lowered potential for conflict in the region.

In some capitals, the prevailing view is that expelling Russian forces from Ukraine is unlikely.99Alexander Ward, Paul McLeary, and Connor O’Brien, “Ukraine Can’t Retake Crimea Soon, Pentagon Tells Lawmakers in Classified Briefing,” Politico, February 1, 2023,; Paul McLeary, “‘Ukraine Is Not Going to Militarily Retake Crimea,’ Top Democrat Says,” Politico, February 17, 2023, A deeper analysis challenges this view. The Russian force that entered Ukraine in February 2022 has been badly damaged. Russian ammunition stocks, especially of precision-guided munitions, have been depleted and replacement efforts crippled by sanctions, forcing Moscow to seek resupply from Iran, North Korea, and China.100“Russia Has Depleted Large Part of Precision Ammunition—NATO Official,” Reuters, October 12, 2022, Poorly trained and unmotivated conscripts, recalled reservists, and prison convicts have been pressed into service to fill gaps in Russian units, but their performance has been unimpressive.101“Less than 10 percent of those now mobilized had carried out any refresher training within five years of leaving active service. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu himself noted that the average age of mobilized soldiers was 35.” Gil Barndollar, “Ukraine Has the Battlefield Edge,” Atlantic, February 13, 2023, Russian generalship and campaign strategy are poor, while Russian air and naval forces have performed below expectations. Hundreds of thousands of military-age males have fled the country, contributing to a manpower crisis that must inevitably bring pressure to bear on Putin’s regime.

The Ukrainian armed forces have suffered high casualties, though far from Russian totals, yet their morale and will to fight remain strong. The people of Ukraine overwhelmingly oppose ceding land to Putin in exchange for an unlikely peace.102Tim Mak, “After Atrocities, Many Ukrainians Aren’t Interested in Negotiating Peace with Russia,” NPR, April 27, 2022, Ukraine continues to field trained, well-equipped new formations, even while filling gaps in existing units (the Russian army is stretched to replace combat losses and is unable to generate new forces due to deficiencies in equipment, training facilities, and cadre).103David Axe, “The Ukrainian Army Could Form Three New Heavy Brigades with All These Tanks and Fighting Vehicles It’s Getting,” Forbes,January 17, 2023, Ukrainian manpower reserves are still adequate, and Ukraine’s leadership and generalship are clearly superior to Russia’s. If Ukraine is provided with certain needed capabilities—above all, long-range fires, airpower, breaching equipment, and adequate artillery ammunition—its recovery of its national territory in the near term is more likely than not.104Ben Hodges, “Ukraine Is Going to End Up Winning,” interview by John H. Cochrane, Hoover Institution, May 4, 2022,

Deterring Russian aggression in the region also depends on more capable in-place forces. Here NATO and the EU can, and should, provide needed economic and security assistance. For small, weaker states like Georgia and Moldova, this means credible, modernized ground forces in division strength, along with stronger and better air and coastal anti-ship defense, backed up by trained reserves. For Romania and Bulgaria, less threatened by Russian ground forces but vulnerable to attack by ground- and sea-launched ballistic missiles, it means more and better air defense and anti-ship missile defenses, as well as more capable naval forces. NATO “tripwire” forces in the form of battalion battle groups can also help to show Alliance solidarity and to remind potential aggressors that an attack on one means an attack on all.105Immediately following the invasion, when it appeared that Ukraine might be overrun, NATO announced that battle groups would be deployed to Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria. These should remain post-conflict. Matina Stevis-Gridneff, “NATO Doubles Its Battlegroups in Eastern Europe Ahead of Multiple Summits,” New York Times, March 23, 2022, If supported by Turkey, a standing NATO naval task force, perhaps based at Constanta, would support maritime deterrence. If not, post-conflict rotations of NATO warships, augmented by Black Sea naval units, can substitute.106The Montreux Convention and Turkish political decisions limit naval options in the Black Sea. Reflagging vessels, conversion of commercial platforms into minesweepers and missile platforms, and expanded use of the Danube to bypass the Bosporus are alternatives that could be explored. These forces would not pose an offensive threat to Russian territory, but would ensure that NATO maritime deterrence is effective across the region.

Stabilizing the Black Sea region requires more than military action and goes well beyond Ukraine. The neighboring states of Georgia and Moldova have weak militaries and face economic and political challenges, due to the continued occupation of parts of their territory by Russian troops as well as a lack of integration with the West. As with Romania and Bulgaria, membership in NATO and the EU offers security guarantees as well as economic and political assistance that can stabilize and improve conditions both internally and across the region. Deferring membership until these states meet more stringent standards makes them more susceptible to Russian influence.107Kataryna Wolczuk, “Overcoming EU Accession Challenges in Eastern Europe: Avoiding Purgatory,” Carnegie Europe, June 28, 2023, Accession should be expedited as much as possible, with the understanding that the timing is complicated while the war is ongoing. The European Council’s recent decision to open accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova and to grant Georgia candidate status is a positive step in this direction, even as the EU’s merit-based process for candidacy makes 2030 the earliest likely date for membership.

Meanwhile, the West continues to hold certain sanctions in reserve, and diplomatic steps to pressure major powers like India, Brazil, South Africa, and—above all—China to suspend support to Moscow can be intensified. Here, international organizations can be importantly leveraged. In the information domain, potential exists to exploit disaffection between oligarchs and Putin’s “power vertical,” estranged military and intelligence officials, and an increasingly resentful population traumatized by huge military casualties and economic hardship. Doing so could increase pressure on Putin while undermining the potency of Russia’s war machine. During the Cold War, the US government was organized and focused on this terrain.108 David R. Shedd and Ivana Stradner, “Waging Psychological War Against Russia,” Politico, September 7, 2022, It can be again.

With these considerations in mind, the following recommendations can underpin a successful and effective strategy for the Black Sea.

A. Diplomatic

  • Expedite, to the degree possible, NATO, OECD, EU, and Three Seas Initiative membership for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, understanding that each institution has unique requirements for membership that will require focused efforts to help the countries meet accession standards.
  • Support Romania’s and Bulgaria’s reform efforts for accession to Schengen.
  • Diminish Russia influence in international organizations like the Group of Twenty (G20), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank, including efforts to prevent Russian membership in these institutions.
  • Exert stronger influence on China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and other neutral or nonaligned states to condemn Russian aggression and aid Ukraine.
  • Post-conflict, seek withdrawal of Russian forces from occupied territories in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia in exchange for sanctions relief and trade concessions.
  • Intensify efforts to exclude Chinese influence and investment in the region.
  • Reestablish the OSCE as an enforcement and monitoring arm for Black Sea stability.
  • Reset relations with Turkey where possible; support lifting EU sanctions and support EU accession in exchange for stronger support of Ukraine and distancing from Russia; reinvigorate NATO-Turkey relations.
  • Encourage travel and investment throughout the region by key allies and friendly Asia-Pacific (Japan, South Korea, Australia) and Middle Eastern/Gulf (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Jordan) countries.
A woman walks past the NATO logo at the entrance of the Alliance headquarters ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels December 4, 2003. REUTERS.

B. Informational

  • Restructure and refocus US information efforts to better influence Russian civil society and exploit fissures among Russian elites.
  • Improve coordinated messaging between allies and partners.
  • Strengthen cyber defense and critical-infrastructure protection in Black Sea states.
  • Mobilize Russian émigré communities to denounce Russian behavior.
  • Target those withholding support for Ukraine to increase economic, political, and military assistance to Kyiv while more robustly isolating Russia economically and politically.
  • Step up overt and covert support for anti-Moscow movements and parties in allied, partner, and neutral countries and inside Russia.
  • Highlight internal Russian corruption and elite decadence inside Russia and abroad.
  • Focus themes and messaging on Russian casualties, targeting local populations in particular.
  • Leverage Russian dissidents (academic, political, military, intelligence, entertainment) to condemn Russian aggression.
  • Intensify and repeat reporting on Russian war crimes and civilian casualties.

C. Military

  • Reinforce nuclear deterrence with all instruments of power across all domains.
  • Include Poland in the Dual-Capable Aircraft program.
  • Through the efforts of NATO allies and the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, provide Ukraine with more effective military capabilities, including ramping up nascent efforts for the provision of F-16s, ATACMs, and assault breaching equipment to enable recovery of its national territory.
  • Through NATO, provide comprehensive security assistance to Black Sea states for deterrence and defense.
  • Retain NATO multinational formations on the eastern flank to bolster deterrence.
  • Introduce a post-conflict NATO naval task force in the western Black Sea to protect international commerce and deter Russian maritime aggression.
  • Develop Constanta as the principal NATO base on the Black Sea; support Romanian naval construction there and upgrade other Romanian military facilities.
  • Strengthen Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Romanian naval power through security assistance and technology transfer.
  • With the EU and through NATO, take concrete steps to improve military mobility across Europe.

D. Economic

  • Through the EU, provide continued large-scale financial support to Ukraine.
  • Step up sanctions on Russia (exclude all Russian banks from SWIFT, close European markets to Russian goods and products); consider secondary sanctions against nations that continue to conduct critical economic, commercial, and energy relationships with Moscow.
  • Mirror EU efforts to grant Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Bulgaria access to low- and no-interest loans and grants, and other economic assistance, to improve standards of living and strengthen democratic institutions.
  • Enact legislation to authorize impoundment and use of Russian assets ($300 billion) held in US and allied/partner financial institutions to pay for Ukrainian reconstruction.
  • Support measures, including direct foreign investment, to exploit offshore energy and reduce regional dependence on Russian energy for Black Sea states.
  • Explore the creation of an economic/trade association of Black Sea states that excludes Russia or intensify similar efforts through EU integration.
  • Provide positive and negative economic incentives to limit China’s economic support to Russia.
A European Union flag flutters outside of the European Parliament in Brussels October 12, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

VII. Alternate approaches

With sturdy and determined US leadership, implementing these options is achievable. However, should allies and partners balk at increasing aid to Ukraine or expediting NATO/EU membership for excluded Black Sea states (for example, because of fear of nuclear escalation), Russian forces will likely retain their current hold on Ukrainian, Georgian, and Moldovan territory. In that case, a stable and prosperous Black Sea region is far less likely.

Some options remain on the table that might improve stability in the Black Sea region, though the overall desired end state might not be achieved. These include even harsher economic sanctions on Russia; rotational stationing of stronger NATO troop formations on the eastern flank; intensified bilateral trade and defense agreements with selected Black Sea states, including stepped-up economic and security assistance; diplomatic efforts to further isolate Russia and improve relations with Turkey; encouragement of increased foreign investment; and help for Black Sea states in reducing dependence on Russian energy. The goal would be to contain further Russian aggression and, where possible, roll back Russian influence while striving to more closely integrate Black Sea states politically and economically with the West. Western leaders should expect that Russia will lobby strenuously for sanctions relief even as it occupies foreign territories in defiance of international law. Extremist parties, business interests, and autocratic personalities in some European countries will support these efforts, but unity at NATO and the EU will be essential to enforcing tough sanctions as the most effective means of leverage in the absence of a military solution.

VIII. Conclusion

The proximate cause of instability and conflict in the Black Sea region is Russia, driven by a desire to reintegrate former imperial territories and reestablish itself as a world power. Directly or indirectly, the fear of Russia has worked to keep some Black Sea states out of NATO and the EU, their best hopes for security and prosperity. NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, though supported at the 2008 Bucharest Summit, has been delayed indefinitely by both Republican and Democratic US administrations and in European capitals for fear of provoking Russian aggression. That policy unfortunately failed. Decisions to exclude or delay decisions about NATO and EU membership for Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia instead encouraged Russian aggression and discouraged closer integration with Europe and the West. In effect, Moscow was given a veto on these decisions. Even as Albania, Montenegro, and North Macedonia—small states with weak militaries and economies, and with histories of corruption—were rapidly brought into NATO, the collective decision of Alliance members to exclude certain Black Sea states contributed to the current tragedy in Ukraine and broader destabilization of the Black Sea region, which is now an active conflict zone.

Today, NATO and EU members remain privately divided on the question of a negotiated settlement that would leave Russia in possession of some Ukrainian territory in exchange for a presumed cessation of hostilities. Some Allies support Ukraine’s determination to recover its occupied lands, while others appear open to negotiations short of a decisive Ukrainian victory. These would almost certainly leave Crimea and/or the Donbas in Russian hands, freezing the conflict, preventing economic gains, and perpetuating an unstable Black Sea region that serves Russian interests but works against the West’s. Further aggression in other former Russian imperial territories would be likely.109“[A]ppeasing Russia and prematurely opening peace negotiations would merely buy Russian forces time to regroup before they would launch the next attack.” Isabell Kump and Leonard Schutte, “Dark Clouds over the Black Sea,” Munich Security Brief 4, (2022), This division constitutes a potential cleavage within the Alliance that Russia can, and will, exploit. Over time, there is a growing risk that Western sanctions and popular support for Ukraine will erode—a compelling reason to support Ukraine in ending the conflict quickly. The United States, NATO, and the EU should maximize the tools available now, while they are still available and effective.

At the present time, tough sanctions and successful Ukrainian military operations have weakened Russia and offer opportunities for a new strategic approach to the region. That approach should be grounded in providing the assistance required to achieve a Ukraine whole and free; firming up NATO’s presence in Bulgaria and Romania; providing security assistance to Black Sea states to strengthen deterrence and defense; leveraging economic sanctions to remove Russian troops from Georgia and Transnistria; and early membership in NATO, the EU, OECD, and the Three Seas Initiative for those Black Sea states now outside the transatlantic community. If international organizations are unable to proceed with timely admissions, a US-led coalition could be formed to take on many of these tasks. Introducing NATO troops into the conflict is not required or desirable, as properly equipped and supplied Ukrainian forces are capable of restoring Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. These steps will require muscular diplomacy, strong leadership, and firm resolve. The stakes are high, and go well beyond Ukraine—not only the European security space, but also the global, international order.

The transatlantic community has weathered many serious crises and emerged stronger and more resilient. With confident and energetic US leadership, in close partnership with the EU and other European states, these outcomes can be achieved. By removing the Russian military threat and integrating Black Sea states more closely with the West, the United States and the transatlantic community can set conditions for a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous region for decades to come.

Task force co-chairs

James L. Jones (general, retired, USMC), executive chairman emeritus, Atlantic Council; former supreme allied commander, Europe and commander, US European Command, and former national security advisor to the president of the United States 

Curtis M. Scaparrotti (general, retired, US Army), senior counselor at the Cohen Group; former supreme allied commander, Europe and commander, US European Command

Task force director and primary author

Task force project directors

  • Anca Agachi, nonresident fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council 
  • Kimberly Talley, program assistant, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council

Task force members

  • Lisa Aronsson, research fellow, National Defense University; nonresident senior fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council 
  • Hans Binnendijk, distinguished fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council 
  • Ian Brzezinski, senior fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO Policy
  • John R. Deni, research professor, US Army War College; nonresident senior fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council 
  • Rachel Rizzo, nonresident senior fellow, Europe Center, Atlantic Council 
  • Leah Scheunemann, nonresident fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council 
  • Wayne Schroeder, nonresident senior fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council 
  • Alex Serban, nonresident senior fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council 
  • Stephen Shapiro, senior advisor, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council
  • Chris Skaluba, director, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council 
  • Alexander “Sandy” Vershbow, distinguished fellow, Transatlantic Security Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council; Former Deputy Secretary General of NATO; Former US Ambassador to Russia
  • Valbona Zeneli, nonresident senior fellow, Europe Center, Atlantic Council

Acknowledgement and disclaimer

The Atlantic Council thanks the National School of Political and Administrative Studies (SNSPA) for partnering in support of this work and for the support provided throughout the course of the task force’s deliberations. Special thanks to the wide range of SNSPA experts and stakeholders who took part in the task force’s committee meetings, contributed perspectives during interviews, participated in the task force’s study trip to Romania, or participated in other contexts. All these interactions enriched our research and analysis.

The findings and recommendations in this report are the products of a task force of Atlantic Council experts acting in their own capacity and focused on developing actionable recommendations for enhancing the security and stability of the geopolitically vital Black Sea region. While the thrust of the report has been endorsed by all members of the task force, specific recommendations do not necessarily reflect the views of all task force members, the US government, the US Department of Defense, or additional organizations with which they are affiliated.

The Transatlantic Security Initiative, in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, shapes and influences the debate on the greatest security challenges facing the North Atlantic Alliance and its key partners.

Related Experts: Richard D. Hooker, Jr., Anca Agachi, Lisa Aronsson, Hans Binnendijk, Ian Brzezinski, John R. Deni, Rachel Rizzo, Leah Scheunemann, Wayne Schroeder, Alex Serban, Stephen Shapiro, Christopher Skaluba, Kimberly Talley, Alexander Vershbow, and Valbona Zeneli

Image: A view of the destroyer USS Donald Cook is seen after it arrived at the Black Sea port of Constanta April 14, 2014. Another U.S. warship will come to the Black Sea after destroyer USS Donald Cook will leave, Romanian President Traian Basescu told reporters in the Black Sea port of Constanta on Monday. Donald Cook arrived in the Black Sea last week for exercises and operations to improve interoperability, increase readiness and enhance relationships. A French vessel is also in Constanta to show support, Basescu said. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel (ROMANIA - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS MARITIME)