The Brief, powered by ESA – Black Sea sabre rattling

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.


Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday (30 June) that Russia could have sunk a British warship that, according to Moscow, had illegally entered its territorial waters.

And he did not fear, he added, that by doing so Russia would have started World War Three because, in his words, those conducting the “provocation” knew that “they could not emerge as victors from such a war”.

According to reports illustrated by photos and video footage, more than 20 Russian aircraft and two coastguard ships shadowed HMS Defender, a British warship sailing near Crimea on 23 June.

Russia’s defence ministry said a patrol ship had fired warning shots and a jet dropped bombs in the path of HMS Defender as it sailed some 12 miles off Crimea’s coast. The UK side, however, was quick to downplay the risks.

By the way, the UK destroyer also has considerable capacity to inflict harm upon the enemy. So basically this was a game of who blinks first.

HMS Defender – a Type 45 destroyer – is part of the UK Carrier Strike Group currently heading to the Indo-Pacific region in wake of London’s strategic pivot to the region. It was en route from the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odessa to Georgia.

The UK said their ship was sailing in international waters, while Russia claimed it was in the Russian territorial waters of the Crimea peninsula. The catch here is that Western countries deem Crimea part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.

The incident sparked tensions between Moscow and London just days ahead of multinational naval manoeuvres led by Ukraine and the United States in the Black Sea, known as Sea Breeze.

A multitude of US allies took part in the exercise, and among the participating ships was the US destroyer Ross, armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The incident went almost unnoticed in most of the EU, gaining a little bit of traction in the EU countries close to the Black Sea and, understandably, a great deal more in Ukraine.

The latter needs to be reassured about its security, especially after the 16 June Geneva meeting between Putin and Joe Biden. Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said the incident showed that Russia’s “aggressive and provocative policies” in the Black Sea and nearby Azov Sea constituted a “continuous threat to Ukraine and its allies”.

The Black Sea is indeed an increasingly dangerous zone.

After the Crimea annexation, Odessa has become Ukraine’s main navy base, often used by NATO ships. Russia, for its part, has been transforming Crimea into a fortress. It has taken control of the Azov Sea and beefed up its Black Sea fleet by introducing additional warships, some even equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles.

Is de-escalation possible?

Neither Russia would retrocede the peninsula to Ukraine, nor would the West recognize Crimea as Russian. In such conditions, the escalation is likely to continue and the risks of new incidents would be permanent.

And in the longer perspective, if Turkey builds the 45-kilometre canal linking the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, with the aim to ease the traffic in the Bosporus, the 1936 Montreux convention, which limits the access of warships not belonging to the Black Sea states, would also be circumvented.

This would mean bringing aircraft carriers to the Black Sea, which the convention prohibits.

The EU has so far had a minimalist take on the goings-on in the Black Sea region.

If one looks at the blog of EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, we can see the ambition of our Union to be a global security provider off the coast of … West Africa. While this is also important and legitimate, the Black Sea is our sea, washing the shores of two member countries.

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The Roundup

While a steady decrease in greenhouse gas emissions can be observed in France over the past years, the pace of carbon-cutting will need to accelerate in order to reach the country’s 2030 climate goals, according to France’s High Council for Climate Change (HCC). EURACTIV France reports.

France’s top administrative court condemned the government’s failure to comply with the Paris Agreement and fight global warming on Thursday, giving it nine months to get in line with the climate objectives it signed up to.

The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday (30 June) its long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas, proposing a rural pact and a rural action plan aimed at making those regions stronger, connected, and prosperous.

Spain on Wednesday (30 June) joined an international campaign to set a date for closing all coal plants by 2030, signing up to a target it looks well-placed to beat by a wide margin.

In the two months before the 11 July parliamentary elections in Bulgaria, a series of corruption scandals have shed light on the country’s governance during the rule of Boyko Borissov’s GERB party. According to the latest polls, support for GERB is falling.

The EU’s Agriculture Commissioner has said he does not foresee a situation where a member state’s Common Agricultural Policy national plan would be rejected for failing to align with the Green Deal, banking instead on the power of persuasion.

Faced with criticism from competitors and regulators, Google has postponed for mid-2023 its plan to put in place an alternative to third-party cookies, the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), acknowledging the need for more time and debate. EURACTIV France reports.

After France failed to complete clinical trials and launch its own COVID-19 vaccine, President Emmanuel Macron now wants to turn things around by giving a €7 billion boost to the medical sector. EURACTIV France reports.

Human rights group Global Witness says they revealed major failings in Facebook’s advertising review system, as they managed to get approved a range of political adverts with sectarian slurs and violent incitement in Northern Ireland.

British engineering company Rolls-Royce has said it will partner with oil company Shell to work on the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) in line with both firms’ plans to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Last but not least, don’t forget to check out our weekly Yellow Room podcast.

Look out for..

  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visits Lithuania in relation to the national Recovery and Resilience Plan
  • Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis holds videoconference call with African Union Ministers responsible for Trade
  • Vice-President Věra Jourová meets with Czech Association of online publishers and Association of regional journalists

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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