Russia Risks Losing Its Power in the Black Sea

Russia's long-held dominance in the Black Sea appears to be suffering due to recent setbacks its forces have faced against Ukraine, as well as from international opposition to Russia's war there.

Russia has historically laid claim to the body of water between Europe and Asia for centuries, and the Soviet Union maintained a dominant presence there following World War II. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia's power waned in the Black Sea due to a lack of funding, according to a 2000 Center for Naval Analyses report. However, Russia later regained much of its influence in the sea after invading and annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Now, its authority in the sea is once again threatened after being dealt a few key strategic losses by Ukrainian forces, according to several experts.

In late January, Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed more than 20 warships into the Black Sea during the military escalation before his forces attacked Ukraine on February 24. His Black Sea Fleet, which traces its origins back to 1783, was hit with a significant public loss after the flagship cruiser Moskva sunk in mid-April. Though Russian officials blamed a fire for the ship's destruction, Ukraine claimed two of its anti-ship missiles were responsible for sinking the vessel that became famous during the early days of the invasion.

On Monday, Ukraine's military chief said a drone destroyed two Russian Raptor-class patrol ships near Snake Island. Russia cannot replace these losses by deploying more ships to attack Ukraine because Turkey controls the straits between the countries and has announced no vessels can enter during the war.

Last week, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace declared Russia had already lost its claims of power over the waters.

"The Russians can't control the Black Sea," Wallace told Sky News. "It's not theirs anymore."

Black Sea ship
Recent strategic losses may deal a blow to Russia’s power in the Black Sea. In this photo, a Russian Navy submarine is seen in the Bosphorus Strait on the way to the Black Sea on February 13, 2022 Getty Images

Russia still yields a lot of power in the Black Sea, though. Along with maintaining control of the Sea of Azov coastline between itself and Ukraine, Russia has also captured the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol. Ukraine's navy has not been a factor in the waters, as Russia managed to capture about a dozen ships from its fleet within the early weeks of the conflict.

A decisive factor limiting Russia's navy is Ukraine's ability to hit sea targets with surface-to-air missiles, according to Michael Petersen, director of the Russia Maritime Studies Institute and an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse, Petersen said the mobility of these weapon systems has made it difficult for Russia to find and destroy the missiles. Petersen also noted the strategic use of drones and mines in preventing Russian Navy forces from mounting an amphibious attack.

The rest of the countries bordering the Black Sea are either in NATO or want to join the alliance. Leaders from these nations are likely observing the success Ukraine has had in warding off Russia's Black Sea advances.

"Certainly Russia will be less secure in the Black Sea than they were before the war," Petersen told Agence France-Presse.