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Military Balance
in the Black Sea Region

RIAC reader

Military Balance in the Black Sea Region

The ongoing Ukrainian crisis and Russia's annexation of Crimea have demonstrated that the use of hard power, no matter how gradual it could be, remains an option in the Black Sea region. Moscow's takeover of Crimea has overthrown the Black Sea security balance and has shed a new light on the growing militarization that characterized the area. The increasing naval activity of the stakeholders in the Black Sea basin has furthermore underlined the maritime dimension of the regional security. Yet, the military capabilities of Black Sea countries remain highly disparate, while recent developments have put an emphasis on NATO's and Washington's role in offsetting Russian military potential on the Black Sea stage. After having tackled Black Sea countries' defense expenditures, this paper analyzes the regional military balance in assessing and comparing the respective capabilities of the neighboring states.
The Crimean episode of the Ukrainian crisis has put an emphasis on the use of hard power as a privileged and persistent option to solve security issues in the Black Sea region. Following Viktor Yanukovitch's runaway from Ukraine in the night of the February 22-23, 2014, Russia seized the opportunity of the vacuum of effective power in Kiev to initiate the process which eventually led to the annexation of Crimea. After having gained political control over the peninsula through the March 16 referendum and the subsequent call of the Crimean self-proclaimed Republic to join Russia, the military phase was carried out at practically no cost for Moscow. In February, the pre-military phase began with the gathering of civilian protesters who organized mass rallies – up to 50 000 protesters - in Crimea in February. The military phase of the operation then started with the occupation of official buildings on February 27, soon followed by the apparition of unidentified armed soldiers, later known as 'green men'. Taking into consideration the high level of militarization of the peninsula, the Russian operation, which ended with the seizure by Russian and pro-Russian forces of all of the 193 Ukrainian bases and military facilities of the peninsula on March 26, demonstrated a very high level of preparation.

If combats between Russian and pro-Russian forces on the one hand, and Ukrainian military on the other hand remained very limited, the Crimean crisis could have nevertheless led to an even worse scenario: the spillover of instability to other areas of the Black Sea region. Although this outcome still could not be totally put aside today, the reverberation of the crisis from Crimea or Ukraine to Transdniestria or Caucasus has not occurred. However, the potential spreading of instability from South-Eastern Ukraine to Black Sea's frozen conflicts would likely involve the use of hard power by the stakeholders, no matter how gradual it could be. By offering Moscow a strong forward defense point in the Black Sea, Russia's annexation of Crimea has dramatically affected the regional balance of power. Russia is not anymore tied to any agreements with regard to the limitation of its units dispatched in Crimea, and the planned expansion of Russian military presence and capabilities in the peninsula furthermore questions the military balance of the Black Sea region.
Research methodology
Any assessment of a balance, be it military or power balance, must take into account quantitative and qualitative factors. As for the quantitative factor, our paper mainly relies on the SIPRI and IISS Military Balance databases. Although studying defense budgets and the number of units (aircrafts, helicopters, sea platforms, artillery and so on) of Black Sea countries provides a necessary understanding of their respective military power, it is only a step in the assessment of the regional military balance. An examination of the numeral military capacities alone of Black Sea countries does not provide a comprehensive picture of their respective power. Indeed, the ability of each stakeholders to use effectively their environment and their military assets appears as a crucial parameter. Qualitative factors can be assessed through the combat readiness of the units, the moral of service personnel, the quality and the commitment of the personnel, the training and the equipment of the troops, the maintenance and the serviceability of the units and so on. The qualitative factor also refers to the mission assigned by each countries to its military forces, and the degree to which these missions can be effectively carried out. Therefore, the qualitative factor tends to weight the quantitative factor, and our article takes into consideration both aspects.

In this paper, the European Commission's definition of the Black Sea region we will be considered, meaning the maritime states of the pontus euxinus, namely Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine, plus Greece, Azerbaijan and Armenia. After having discussed the Black Sea countries' military expenditures, this article deals with the regional military balance.

Military Expenditures in the Black Sea:

a Growing Gap between NATO Members and the 'Shared Neighborhood'

Military Expenditures in the Black Sea:

a Growing Gap between NATO Members and the 'Shared Neighborhood'
The Black Sea region has experienced a growing militarization since the 2000s. With an average of nearly 2,5% of the GDP allocated yearly by the stakeholders to their defense spending, an average of $34 billion has been spent by Black Sea countries each year between 2000 and 2015 for military expenditures.
Military expenditure assessment based on SIPRI database
SIPRI Military Expenditures Database. Whereas the percentage of the GDP includes Russian military spending, the average in US$ does not take into account the military budget of the Russian Federation. Moscow spent $87,8 billion in 2013 for its defence, including the maintenance of strategic missiles, the acquisition of new equipment and platforms. Thus, the integration of Russia's military budget in the Black Sea countries military spending would not provide us with an accurate view of the security balance in the region.
From 2000 to 2015, military expenditures in the Black Sea region increased from an average of 2,5% of GDP to 2,6% of the GDP, with a peak at 3,1% reached in 2007. Whereas during the first half of the 2000s, military expenditures seemed to be deflating, with the lowest rate reached in 2003-2004 (2,2% of GDP), the second half of the decade remains characterized by increasing spending, starting from 2005 until 2008. After 2008, despite the Russian-Georgian conflict, the economic crisis put an end to the growing militarization of the region, and Black Sea military expenditures deflated in value from 10% between 2009 and 2010, switching from nearly $37 billion to $34 billion. Yet, in term of GDP, the expenditures stabilized around a still high 3%, the real inflexion being witnessed between the year 2008 and the year 2010. In 2010, Black Sea countries spent 2,5% of GDP for the military forces, which corresponds in value to nearly $34 billion, the lowest rate since 2005.

The Ukrainian crisis has highlighted the strategic dimension of the 'shared neighborhood' (Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia) for the EU and NATO on the one hand, and for the Russian Federation on the other hand. A focus on the military expenditures in Black Sea NATO countries (Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania) and in the 'shared neighborhood' (Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia) reveals two fundamental opposite realities.
The findings are appalling: Turkey's military expenditures have dropped by one third, from 3,7% in 2000 to 2,1% in 2015. Greece has followed the same pattern: while Athens was spending 3,6% of GDP for its defense in 2000, it spent 2,6% in 2015, due to the deep economic crisis the country is going through. The pattern is even more accurate in the case of Romania which has cut its defense expenditures by nearly a half, from 2,5% in 2000 to 1,4% in 2015. In that regard, the Crimean crisis has shed the light on the considerable slide in NATO members' defense spending due to the economic crisis. On June 2014, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel pressed allies to raise their military expenditures, and to stick with the target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defense investments. In response to the Ukrainian crisis, Romania, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia have already announced plans to increase their defense budget. In May 2014, then Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta stated that Romania would raise its military expenditure by 0,2% by the year's end. On January 2015, newly elected President Klaus Iohannis pledged that Bucharest would increase its defense spending to 2% GDP by 2017 and to maintain this level of spending until 2027. Beyond Washington's European Reassurance Initiative , constant reduced investments in defense spending poses a real challenge to NATO's credibility and questions the security guaranty of the Alliance.
Whereas NATO Black Sea countries' military expenditures have constantly deflated since 2000, the 'shared neighborhood' has invested strongly and persistently in building up its military.
While NATO members of the Black Sea region spent in average slightly more than 3,1% of their GDP in defense spending in 2000, their military expenditures dramatically plunged to less than 1,8% in 2015. The deflation is not only permanent all along the period, but it is also corroborated by their defense budgets: whereas they spent nearly $32,4 billion in 2000, they hardly invested $27,5 billion in 2015. In spite of the Russian-Georgian conflict, defense expenditures of NATO Black Sea countries constantly deflated between 2008 and 2011, even before the economic crisis, and reached their lowest rate in 2011, with 1,8% of GDP allocated to defense spending ($26 billion). However, since 2011, military expenditures seem to slightly increase in term of budget, and to stabilize around 1,9% of GDP, which is less than the commitment of 2% requested by the Alliance for each of its members. Taking into account these trends, since 2000, Black Sea NATO countries have been security consumers more than security providers.

On the other hand, the 'shared neighborhood' is characterized by a total different pattern, although the values considered in $US are up to 10 times lower than those of the Black Sea NATO countries. Since 2000, defense spending has constantly grown, from an average of 2% of GDP in the beginning of the decade, to 2,8% in 2015. In term of budget, military expenditures have more than doubled during the same period: the defense budget of the 'shared neighborhood' jumped from $2 billion in 2000 to nearly $5,3 billion in 2015, which is the highest rate for the 2000-2015 period. Starting from 2001, defense spending constantly increased until 2007, before dropping both in term of budget and percentage of GDP from 2008 to 2011, following here the pattern displayed by Black Sea NATO countries. Since 2011, the 'shared neighborhood' has increased defense spending in term of budget while the percentage of GDP allocated to their military expenditures remains almost stable around 2,4-2,5%. Unlike Black Sea NATO countries, the 'shared neighborhood' has globally increased its military spending during the 14 past years. Yet, this pattern does not provide us an accurate picture of the distribution of the defense spending.
Two main 'leaders' of the 'shared neighborhood' in term of military expenditures are fist Georgia and second Armenia. Tbilisi's military spending has inflated from 0,6% of GDP in 2000 to 2,4% of GDP in 2015, with a peak at 9,2% in 2007, just before the Russian-Georgian conflict. Armenia has increased by more than 10% its defense budget, from 3,6% in 2000 to 4,5% in 2015. This soft jump does not however frame properly the reality of Armenian defense since Erevan is tied to Moscow for military and defense assistance, and hosts a Russian base on its soil. Moldova has been successful in maintaining a nearly permanent defense budget at 0,4% of its GDP, whereas Ukraine has constantly deflated its military expenditures from 3,6% in 2000 to 3,1% in 2014. In 2015, Kiev committed to a 4% of GDP. The finding concerning the 'shared neighborhood' calls for at least two remarks. First, all these four countries host frozen conflicts of various intensity or have experienced tensions with one of their neighbors. However, the existence of such a conflict does not preclude some of the stakeholders to maintain a relatively low rate of military spending (Moldova) or even to deflate the defense budget (Ukraine). Secondly, taking into account the trend of Ukraine's military spending, this graph confirms that should Ukraine become a NATO member, Kiev would be a security consumer more than a security provider.

Black Sea Military Balance

Black Sea Military Balance

Growing military expenditures in the 'shared neighborhood' on the one hand and deflation of defense budgets in Black Sea NATO members on the other hand questions the existing military balance in the Black Sea.
Black Sea Countries 2014 and 2015 Firepower
Source: Global Firepower, globalfirepower.com
The firepower ranking does not take into account Russian nuclear forces and is rather based on each nation's conventional potential and capabilities across sea, land and air. The Global Firepower ranking also incorporates values related to finances, resources and geography. According to this ranking, Russia appears as the main hegemon, followed by Turkey. Russia's rating integrates all Moscow's armed forces, including units deployed in the Eastern, Central and Western military districts. Therefore, a focus on military capabilities of each Black Sea countries could provide a far more accurate picture of their respective capabilities. However, the third country would be Ukraine, and not, surprisingly enough, Azerbaijan or Greece. In 2015, Ukraine has been able, curiously enough, to stick to its third rank. Despite poor military spending, Romania enjoys a better ranking than Greece or Georgia.
With 45% of the active units, Turkey has by far the largest army of the Black Sea region. However, Ankara's army is not exclusively dispatched in Turkish northern flank, and has been on the contrary more and more solicited by the southeastern and the eastern flanks due to the ongoing instability related to the Syrian crisis and operations carried out against the PKK. Paramilitary units represents the second largest corps after the army: the Gendarmerie (Ministry of Interior) is the main unit with 100,000 personnel. Moreover, more than 75% of the Turkish army consists in conscripts (325,000 out of 402,000). The Navy also includes conscripts (34,500 out of 48,600) and only the Air Force units entirely consists in contract personnel. Turkish military has been nevertheless strongly impacted by successive purges of top ranking officers since the end of the 1990s. These purges have been carried out by the Turkish government: the last massive one was achieved in 2012 and led to the dismissal of 40 detained generals. The Turkish Navy is believed to have been particularly strongly impacted by the purges.

Ukraine appears to have the second largest army of the Black Sea region, but in the case of an open conflict with Russia in Eastern regions, the Ukrainian army would have to be dispatched near the Belorussian and the Russian borders on the one hand, and near Transdniestria on the other hand to face Moscow's 14th Army dispatched in Transdniestria. Although the bulk of the Ukrainian army consisted in 2014 in paramilitary units, mainly belonging to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (39,900) and to the Border Guard (45,000), the figures for 2015 remain unknown. Kiev formed in 2014 a new National Guard with 33,000 personnel. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian military is hampered by a set of structural challenges that Kiev has been unable to deal with efficiently. First, plans to end the conscription have failed. After having suspended conscription for a few months in 2014, it was reinstated in May 2014, and today Kiev's army consists in just over 50% of servicemen. Before its ousting, the Yanukovitch government targeted 2015 to transform the army and terminate the conscription (Defence reform plan to 2017). Despite efforts to rationalize the budget and a roughly constant military spending (with a 2,8% average of GDP), the Ukrainian army has been poorly supplied in new equipment and continue to operate aging Soviet-era hardware. Moreover, reforms planned by Kiev to downsize and modernize its army have suffered from inappropriate budgets. As pointed out by the White Paper 2012, two decades of underfinanced military reforms question the training and the combat readiness of Ukraine's military. The number of personnel serving in the Civil Defense Troops and the battalions remains unknown although the number of battalions has been assessed at 40, with foreign fighters enlisted (mainly Polish, Croatians, and Balts so-called volunteers).

Romania and Greece have similar military forces in terms of overall size, each of them counting for 11% of Black Sea military. However, with 79,900, Romania's Ministry of Interior has the largest number of personnel (57,000 for the Gendarmerie, and 22,900 for the Border Guard). According to NATO standards, Romania's army combat readiness is assessed at 70% to 90%. With the ongoing economic crisis, Greek's military has been subject to cuts in salaries, and significant reduction in exercises and training.

Russia appears to be the fourth most important Black Sea military actor considering the size of its forces. Russia's Southern Military District was formed in 2010 on the basis of the North Caucasus Military District, the Black Sea Fleet, the Caspian Flotilla and the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Command, and it has its headquarter located in Rostov-on-Don. It also includes units deployed in Armenia, South-Ossetia and Abkhazia, and since March 2014, in Crimea and Sevastopol. Considering the crisis in Ukraine, the number of Russian forces dispatched in the Southern Military District has fluctuated, and we can only provide an assessment of their size. Yet, Southern Military District's units are believed to be better trained and equipped than those from Russia's other military districts (Western, Central and Eastern military districts). Moreover, with 1,500 personnel, Russian troops deployed in Transdniestria represents the equivalent of 25% of the size of Moldova's military (around 6,500). Plans to end the conscription have failed, and today nearly a third of Russia's army consists in conscripts. In the Caucasus, the army represents by far the largest unit in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Baku's paramilitary forces are made from the Border Guard and Coast Guard (5,000) and 10,000 personnel from the Militia (Ministry of Internal Affairs). Nearly half of the Armenian army consists in conscripts whereas in Georgia, this rate falls at 21% (3,750 out of 17,750) and 23% for the Air Force.

In terms of available reserves, Russia remains, by far, the first actor with 2,000,000 people, followed by Ukraine (1,000,000) and Turkey (less than 400,000). Since the bulk of Russia's population lives in the Western part of the country, mobilized persons could be easily transferred to the Southern Military District.
Army vehicle
Turkey appears to have the largest ground forces of the Black Sea region. Turkish army operates German-type tanks Leopard (722 units) and American M battle tanks (M48 and M60), and has 2,000 more units placed in reserve. Greece, the second stakeholders for ground forces, operate also German Leopard tanks (879 units) as well as American M battle tanks (M48 and M60), and bought Soviet BMP-1 for its armored infantry fighting vehicles. Ukraine still operates Soviet-era equipement: Kiev has mainly T-64 BV/BM tanks, and keeps in reserve T-55, T-64, T-72 and T-80 battle tanks, as well as BMD and BMP type armored infantry fighting vehicles. As for the armored personal carriers, the Ukrainian army uses BTR type vehicles (BTR-4, BTR-60, BTR-70 and BTR-80) inherited from the USSR. Russia's Southern military district tanks units consist mainly in T-90A and T-72 whereas the armored infantry fighting vehicles are BMP-2 (amphibious capable) and BTR-80 armored personal carriers. Finally, more than half of the Romanian army's battle tanks are Soviet-era T-55 (250 units), the rest consisting in Romanian TR-580 (42 units) and TR-85 (145 units). In the Caucasus, Azerbaijan has considerably beefed up its ground forces over the past years. In 2006, Baku bought 62 Russian T-72M1 combat tanks, and in 2007, 70 BTR-80A armored personal carriers. Last year, Russia sold to Azerbaijan 100 BMP-3M armored infantry fighting vehicles and 94 T-90S battle tanks (SIPRI Arms Transfers Database).
Air Force
Turkish air force represent a third of Black Sea countries' air capabilities, and they are divided between East and West tactical units. Turkish pilots have to achieve a minimum of 180 flying hours a year, which is the baseline for NATO members. They operate mainly American fighters (F-5) and ground attack aircrafts (F-4 and F-16). In March 2011 Turkey placed a huge order for the Lockheed Martin F-35 joint strike fighters for a reported cost of $16 billion for 100 units to be bought by 2030. Turkish Aerospace Industries has completed the conceptual design work with the Swedish Saab, nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the first TF-X unit will carry out its maiden flight in 2023, as stated by Turkish official. Greece operates American (F-4 and F-16) and French (Mirage 2000) fighters. Greek air force enjoyed a qualitative advantage on Turkish air force until Ankara boosted its joint training program with the US and Israel in the 1990s. Today, the qualitative balance of power between Greece and Turkey is consequently roughly equivalent. Ankara has decided to beef up its air defense capabilities, and in September 2013, Turkey selected China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corp (CPMIEC) and signed a €2,5 billion deal to buy the HQ-9 medium- to long-range air defense system raising deep concerns in the US and European about NATO compatibilities and security. Yet, since the Chinese company seems to have not fully comply with Ankara's requirements, Turkey is still open to an improved offer in the long-range missile system tender.

Russia's Southern military district air force represent approximately 20% of the Black Sea countries' air force capabilities, and they are larger than all Greek's air capabilities. They are regrouped within the 4th Air Force & Air Defence Command and dispatched on 9 air bases located in Russia, plus the 3624th Air Base located at the Erebuni airport in Yerevan which hosts 16 MiG-29 Fulcrum, plus the air bases located in Crimea (mainly Gvardeyskoye, near Sevastopol). In 2013, Russian pilots reportedly performed 100 to 120 flying hours a year. Russia operates in its Southern Military District 121 fighters (63 MiG-29 Fulcrum and 58 Su-27 Flanker), more than 80 fighter and ground attack aircrafts (Su-24M Fencer, Su-27SM3, Su-30M2 and Su-34), and 129 attack aircrafts (Su-25 Frogfoot). Yet, according to the Russian State Armament Program 2011-2020 and to the recently unveiled Air force procurement plan, the Southern Military District is set to induct new aircrafts including Su-34 bombers (in replacement of non-modernized Su-24), modernized Su-24, multipurpose Su-30SM, additional Su-34 as well as Su-35 fighters. Moreover, after having annexed Crimea, Moscow has gained free hands to deploy any new units and arm systems in the peninsula. The Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the deployment of 20 additional Su-27 fighters on the Crimean airbase of Belbek was part of Russia's military presence build up, as well as long-range supersonic bombers Tu-22M3 in 2016. These bombers, which are capable to carry nuclear weapons, should be deployed on Gvardeyskoye airbase, together with Tu-142 and Il-38N, and Ka-27 and Ka-30 helicopters, all being fitted for maritime patrols and anti-submarine warfare. Gvardeyskoye could thus become a sort of hub for Russia's naval aviation which would be able to perform patrol as far as the Eastern Mediterranean. In January 2014, Russia formed a helicopter squadron to strengthen its air contingent at the Erebuni air base in Armenia. New Mi-24P attack helicopters, Mi-8MT and Mi-8SMV military transport helicopters will be gradually dispatched at Russia's 3624th Air Base in Armenia. These new helicopters will strengthen the already operating 24 Mi-24 Hind and 12 Mi-28N Havoc B attack helicopters. Moreover, according to the air force procurement plan, the Southern military district helicopter capabilities will be enhanced with new Ka-52 and Mi-28N attack helicopters, Mi-8AMTSh Terminator assault-transport helicopters, Mi-35 combat helicopters and Ka-226 utility choppers.

The Ukrainian air force operates mainly Soviet-era aircrafts, and due to budget restrictions, pilots are supposed to perform a minimum of 40 flying hours a year, which is very low in comparison with their Turkish counterparts (180 hours), and more than twice less than the average flying time in Russian air force. The Ukrainian air force consist in 116 fighters (MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker), 34 Su-24 Fencer (fighter and ground attack aircrafts) and 29 Su-25 Frogfoot attack aircrafts. However, the serviceability and the combat readiness of these aircrafts can be questioned, and the total available combat fleet is probably much smaller. Ukraine is said to have lost nearly 20 units above Donbass in the conflict against separatists.

Romania still operates Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter and attack aircrafts (36), and yearly flying time of Romanian pilots are recorded at 120 hours, which is less than the 180 flying hours recommended for NATO members. Besides, as a part of Washington's response to the Ukrainian crisis, Bucharest will receive starting from 2016 12 F-16 midlife upgrade aircrafts transferred from Portugal

With 48 aircrafts, Azerbaijan has roughly the same number of units than Bulgaria, and both counties operate Soviet-era jets (mainly MiG-21s and MiG-29s). However, the serviceability and the combat readiness of the aircrafts remain unclear: the flying time for Bulgarian pilots is for instance estimated to 30 to 40 hours a year, and Bulgarian air capacities have been exhausted along 2014 with units regularly scrambling to intercept Russian jets over the Black Sea. On the other hand, Baku has the largest fleet of helicopters of Transcaucasia. In 2010, Russia sold to Azerbaijan 20 Mi-24 VM Hind-E combat helicopters and 53 Mi-8MT and Mi-17 transport helicopters (SIPRI Arms Transfers Database). Finally, Armenia and Georgia have quite similar air capabilities (respectively 18 and 21 jets): both countries operate a fleet of Soviet-made Su-25, with law combat readiness and serviceability.
Russia and Turkey appear as the two main maritime stakeholders in the Black Sea region although their respective naval capabilities are rather different. Both Moscow and Ankara have plans to beef up their naval capabilities during the next decade, which stresses and confirms the increasing maritime dimension of the Black Sea. Whereas Turkish Navy appears to be in better condition, Russia's Black Sea Fleet is today in a urgent need for modernization and replacement of Soviet-era sea platforms. In 2012, the Black Sea Fleet had 12 first rank ships and 1 submarine totalizing nearly 63,000 tons, 90% of which was deployed in Crimea. Turkey had in 2012 35 first rank ships and submarines featuring more than 97,000 tons. However, the Syrian crisis has demonstrated Russia's Black Sea fleet ability to operate in the Mediterranean on a quasi-permanent basis to support Russian Navy deployment and to supply the Syrian regime with military hardware. Consequently, over the past 3 years, Russian crews have increased their experience at sea, and their morale has consequently improved. Greece, the third naval player in the Black Sea, faces financial difficulties and has to cut down military spending, modernization plans and military procurements to balance its deficit and its budget.

However, although Ankara's navy appears as the most effective of the region, it has to split between Black Sea and Mediterranean coastline, and it should be remembered that purges carried out among the top ranking military officers during the past decade has dramatically affected the Turkish Navy. Turkish navy operates 14 classic submarines supplied by Germany (6 Type 209-1200 and 8 Type 209-1400), and part of them are deployed at the Bartin naval base on Turkey's Black Sea coast, a submarine base assigned to the Turkish Northern Sea Area Command. In July 2009, Ankara has ordered 6 more units to the German Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft GmbH (HDW), and to the British Marine Force International LLP (MFI) for the construction of Class 214 submarines to be commissioned between 2018 and 2023. The deal is estimated at €2,5 billion and the submarines will be built in Gölcük Naval Shipyard where 11 out of the 14 Turkish Type 209 subs have already been built. For the surface combatant units, Turkish Navy operates US and German platforms: 8 ex German MEKO 200 frigates, including 4 modernized units, and 8 ex-US Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. Ankara has started to beef up its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities and initiated in 2004 the building of 12 MILGEM (for Milli Gemi, or National Ship) littoral combat corvettes with ASW and high seas patrol capabilities. The first unit, the TCG Heybeliada was built in Turkish Naval Shipyard (Istanbul) and inducted in 2011, whereas the second was commissioned in 2013. The four first units will be built by Turkish Naval Shipyard for a unit cost predicted to be less than €220 million, and the first batch of 6 MILGEM corvettes should therefore costs around €1,4 billion. As for the amphibious capabilities, Turkish Navy features 5 landing ship tanks (LST) but has also a further 49 smaller landing craft tanks (LCT) and landing craft mechanized (LCM). Yet, Ankara has planned to strongly expand its amphibious capabilities through the acquisition of one landing platform dock (LPD), 2 new LST and 8 fast new LCT. Whereas the new LCT have all been built between 2010 and 2013, the building of the LPD and the LST has not started yet. The LPD will fill a gap in Turkish Navy capabilities, and in December 2013, Ankara signed a €3 billion deal with a local shipyard company, Sedef Gemi Insaati A.S., and the Spanish company Navantia, for the project. The first unit is set to be inducted in 2021. In May 2011, Turkish Ministry of Defence and ADIK Furtrans shipyard signed a €370 million deal for the construction of the two new LSTs: the first unit is set to be commissioned in 2017. The LSTs and LPD will enhance Turkey's ability to operate at long range and support Navy's operation in Libya type conflict.

Today, Russia's Black Sea Fleet remains a Soviet-era "green water fleet" with limited high sea capabilities. It operates 1 guided missile cruiser, the Moskva, which is also the flagship of the fleet, 1 classic submarine, 3 frigates, 7 large amphibious units, and several small antisubmarine warfare boats and small missile or artillery boats. Around 90% of the tonnage of the fleet is located in Crimean ports, mainly in Sevastopol (80%), but also in Feodossia (9%). In 2014, the overall average age of the nearly 40 combat units reaches 36 years, underscoring the deep need for replacement of the units. The Black Sea Fleet is served by 13,000 service men dispatched primarily in Crimea, but also in other naval and air bases such as Temryuk (Russia's only naval base in the Sea of Azov), Novorossiysk, and Otchamchira and Gudauta in Abkhazia. The fleet lacks air-defense and air strike capabilities, and therefore relies on land-based assets to offset this gap. Moscow has reportedly deployed S-300 air-defense systems in Crimea as early as March 2014, soon after the beginning of military operation which ended with the annexation of the peninsula. On the other hand, Caspian Flotilla's modernization plan was initiated during the first half of the 2000s and the process is still underway. Both naval formations are linked through the Don-Volga canal which allows the quick transfer of small artillery boats and missiles corvettes from one sea to another via inland southern Russia. The Caspian Flotilla has already been reinforced with 2 new frigates (Project 11661), the Tatarstan (commissioned in 2003) and the Dagestan (inducted in 2012), and 3 corvettes (Project 21630), the Astrakhan (commissioned in 2006), the Kaspiysk (2011) and the Makhachkala (2012). In the framework of the 2011-2020 State Armament Program, the Caspian Flotilla is set to receive 4 additional missile corvettes (Project 21631) which feature Kalibr cruise missile. The two first units, the Grad Sviyazhsk and the Uglitch were commissioned in July 2014, and a third, the Velikiy Ustiug was inducted in December 2014. The next units are set to be assigned to the Black Sea Fleet. The buildup of the Black Sea Fleet is one of the highest priority of the State Armament Program and up to 18 new units should be commissioned by 2020. Moscow also plans to upgrade its military presence in the Black Sea region in setting up new military facilities in Abkhazia and South-Ossetia, and deploy additional mobile missile coastal forces. New sea platforms should consist in 6 multipurpose frigates (Project 11356M), currently under construction in Yantar Shipyard (Kaliningrad). The lead ship unit, the Admiral Grigorovicth, was floated out in mid-March 2014, and has been commissioned in March 2016. Derived from the Soviet Krivak type frigates, the new Project 11356M frigates will have anti-ship (P-800 Onyx missile), anti-surface (cruise missile Klub) and anti-air capabilities (Shtil SAM missile system). Whereas Russia has secured the engines for the first batch of three frigates, the commissioning of the next three units seems problematic since Ukraine's Zorya Machproject was the supplier. Due to the Ukrainian crisis, Russia has opted for the indigene manufacturer, Saturn, to build Russian-made engines, which will postpone the induction of the last three Project 11356 units to 2 to 3 years. Six new classic submarines (Project 0636.3, Kilo class), built in the Admiralty shipyard (Saint Petersburg), should also be commissioned. The first unit, the B-261 Novorossiysk, was launched in November 2013 and already joined the Black Sea Fleet, whereas the second unit, the B-237 Rostov-Na-Donu was inducted in the Black Sea Fleet in late 2015. The new platforms will critically enhance Russian anti-access area denial (A2/AD) capabilities in the Black Sea, and contribute to lock Russia's southern flank. Moreover, Russia's annexation of Crimea is likely to give a substantial impetus to the development of the Black Sea Fleet, and Moscow has announced it will reconsider the overall basing system of the fleet as well as deployment plans for the new units in the short term. The critical lack of maintenance infrastructures should also be solved in the short term: Russia has reportedly designed plans to develop and refit Sebastopol's shipyards capabilities.

Before Russia's absorption of Crimea, Ukraine had the most serious maritime power potential in the Black Sea. Crimea provided Kiev with the best Black Sea port, Sevastopol, and with the longest coastline and the largest continental shelf in the region. However, Ukraine's naval power has been constrained by critical funding restrictions and structural challenges. Kiev's fleet comes from the spilt of the ex-Soviet Black Sea Fleet concluded with Moscow in 1997 and is characterized by a very low serviceability rate. Ukrainian navy has only 1 high sea capable vessel, the frigate Hetman Sagaidachny, and its only sub, a Soviet-era Foxtrot type submarine, is not fit for battle. Ukraine however planned to modernize its fleet through the implementation of a €1,5 billion corvette construction program approved by the Ukrainian government in March 2009. According to the initial program, 10 units of the codenamed Project 58250 corvette were ordered, but due to financial difficulties, Kiev cut the program down to 4 units in 2010. The lead ship unit, the Vladimir Veliky, is being built in Chernomorsky Shipyard (Nikolaiev) with the contribution of several western companies, including the German Rheinmetall. The delivery of the Vladimir Veliky was scheduled for 2015, with 3 other units initially planned to be commissioned by 2021. However, the ongoing crisis as well as the critical economic situation in Ukraine is likely to seriously hamper the completion of this program. Besides, the bulk of Ukraine's navy was based in Crimean naval facilities, and after its military operations in the peninsula, Russia seized 70 Ukrainian warships. Nevertheless, taking into account their poor global condition, Moscow started to return the vessels to Ukraine, and on April 11, 2014, the first batch of Ukrainian warships was tugged to Odessa. In July 2015, Russia stated it was ready to return the last 20 vessels to Ukraine out of the 70 seized in March 2014. Due to the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine's maritime potential and naval power is dramatically questioned. However, since Crimea is not likely to return to Ukraine in the near future, Kiev should resize its fleet by decommissioning old and now unnecessary units.

Georgia does not have any more Navy since 2009, when Georgian naval forces were merged with the Coast Guard under the auspices of the Border Guard. After the 2008 Georgian-Russian conflict, Ankara transferred to Georgia 2 patrol crafts (2008-2009) in order to strengthen Tbilisi's ability to monitor its borders with Turkey. In terms of quantitative sea platforms, Georgia's capabilities are comparable to those of Azerbaijan, Bulgaria and Ukraine and mainly consist in second and third rank units fitted for littoral protection and coastal patrol. Although Romanian naval forces appears twice bigger than those of the previous group of countries, with 4 corvettes and a serial of patrol boats, they are nevertheless only fitted for littoral protection. Romania has furthermore no naval aviation, and cannot carry out air patrol or ASW operations, just like Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Russia and Other Actors in the Region
NATO Countries of the Black Sea Region
'Shared Neighborhood' Countries


The analysis of the Black Sea military expenditures and balance reveals two major patterns. First, in the context of fairly constant military expenditures in the region (from an average of 2,5% of GDP in 2000 to 2,6% of GDP in 2015), two groups of countries can be clearly identified: Black Sea NATO members on the one hand, and the 'shared neighborhood on the other hand. Over the past decade, whereas the former group has cut down its military spending (from 3,1% of GDP in 2000 to 1,8% of GDP in 2015 in average), the latter has increased its military budget by nearly 50% (from 2% of GDP in 2000 to more than 2,8% of GDP in 2015 in average). Military spending of Black Sea NATO members nevertheless represents more broadly a general trend in the Alliance to deflate military expenditures, which prompted the call of the US to stick with the 2% of GDP as a baseline for military expenditures. However, the Ukrainian crisis has reminded to some of the Black Sea NATO members the need to maintain capable conventional forces. On the other hand, increasing military expenditures on the 'shared neighborhood' appears as a response to ongoing instability, especially for Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.

The second pattern concerns the Black Sea military balance: three groups of countries can be identified with regard to their military capabilities. The first group consists in regional hegemon with extra-Black Sea security agenda and is formed by Russia and Turkey. Both Ankara and Moscow consider the Black Sea as their backyard, and have established a security condominium over the region. Russia and Turkey are cautious not to challenge openly each other's interests, which provides them with a greater ability to deal with their interests on other stages, like in the Middle East (Turkey, Russia) or in Central Asia and the Far East (Russia). The two stakeholders are the only Black Sea countries to implement a military program of modernization, and both of them have planned to expand their sea and air-defense capabilities. The second group consists in Greece, Romania and Ukraine. Although they have different military forces, all the three have a serious unexploited potential to be greater stakeholders on the Black Sea stage. These 'junior Black Sea hegemons' are constrained by a set of economic and political issues, and Greek military, which appears to be clearly superior to Romanian and Ukrainian militaries, is likely to suffer from the domestic economic situation. Finally, the last group consists in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova. These four actors have sized their respective military forces in order to face a potential local conflict. The development of Georgian, Armenian and Azeri armed forces is therefore oriented by the so-called frozen conflicts. As for Moldova, beyond very low military expenditures and reduced military capabilities, the forces of the Russian 14th Army dispatched in Transniestria are the equivalent of 25% of the Moldovan military, and they are better equipped and trained.

Black Sea military balance seems to favor Turkey and Russia, but both stakeholders have to deal with other theaters. The qualitative decline of Russia's military which characterized the 1990s and the 2000s has already started to ease thanks to the implementation of the State Armament Program 2011-2020 and to the experience gained through the Syrian crisis. The use of hard power remains an option used by Russia to solve local conflict and it is still perceived by smaller powers as a tool to answer security challenges posed by unresolved conflicts within or between states. The inefficiency of international institutions as well as the inexistence of a regional security architecture has fueled military spending in the Black Sea region during the past years. Black Sea military balance is growing more and more unbalanced with increasing Russian and Turkish military capabilities on the one hand, and stagnating if not atrophying military forces of other Black Sea countries on the other hand.
Dr. Igor Delanoë
RIAC expert,
Deputy Director, French-Russian Analytical Center Observo (Moscow)
Affiliate Researcher, CIES, Kadir Has University (Istanbul)
Affiliate Researcher, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute
Project produced by: Dmitry Puminov, Maria Gurova, Daria Khaspekova, Alexander Teslya and Irina Sorokina.
Pictures and graphics used in the project are from open sources: flaticon.com, peopleofar.com, airliners.net, hdw.eweb4.com, mil.ru, wikipedia.org, flikr.com, flot.sevastopol.info, cruiser-moskva.info

© 2016 Russian International Affairs Council, russiancouncil.ru
Opinions expressed in the article reflect author's point and his research position and it can differ from RIAC's.