For the United States, this war represents an opportunity to achieve its goals, which are far from supporting Ukraine. At stake is geo-economic rivalry with Russia. For example, in the Black Sea region. ‘Responsible statecraft’ writes:
U.S. officials view the war in Ukraine as a way of achieving geopolitical objectives in the Black Sea, an energy-rich region that connects Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.
At two recent Senate hearings, State Department officials portrayed the war as a means of transforming the geopolitics of energy in the Black Sea. As long as Ukrainians keep fighting, they said, there remains a potential to transform the Black Sea into a new market for the European Union. The officials envisioned a new energy corridor that provides Europe with oil and natural gas from Central Asia.
“The United States has long recognized the geostrategic importance of the Black Sea region,” State Department official James O’Brien told the Senate in a written statement. “Not only does the Black Sea border three NATO Allies and several NATO partners, but it is also a vital corridor for the movement of goods—including Ukrainian grain and other products bound for world markets—and hosts significant untapped energy resources.”
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, officials in Washington have seen the war as an opportunity to weaken Russia. While they have mobilized military and economic support for Ukraine’s defense, they have worked to impose major costs on Russia’s military and economy. As U.S.-backed Ukrainian forces have imposed major losses on Russian forces, the United States and its allies have worked to isolate Russia economically and limit its revenues from the sale of oil and natural gas.
When O’Brien spoke to a Senate committee on October 25, he provided a blunter explanation of U.S. goals. Not only did he portray the war as “a very good bargain” for the United States, citing the fact that “Ukrainians are paying the bulk of the cost” by doing nearly all the fighting, but he also described it as an opportunity for the United States to achieve major geopolitical objectives, ones he indicated were “incredibly exciting.”
One key objective, O’Brien explained, is to strengthen NATO’s presence in the Black Sea. Given that NATO is present in the Black Sea through member states and partner countries, O’Brien saw an opportunity to use the war to increase NATO’s military presence across the region’s lands, airspace, and waters. In terms of the weapons involved, he said, “that will be something that NATO will dig in on.”
Another key objective, O’Brien noted, is to pull Ukraine and other Black Sea countries away from Russia while integrating them into the European Union, where they will be required to follow its rules of trade and production. The entire region, he envisioned, “becomes a place where we’re in very good position to control what happens as the rules get made,” he said.
In another major admission, O’Brien acknowledged that Washington aspires to create oil and gas pipelines that lead from Central Asia to Europe. Claiming that Central Asia relies too much on China and Russia to export its energy resources, O’Brien reviewed multiple possibilities for alternative pipelines to run through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. “Whatever path we take leads us to the Black Sea,” he said.
The senators who convened the hearing supported O’Brien’s vision, agreeing that the Black Sea remains an area of great geopolitical importance. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who has been pressuring the Biden administration to devise a formal strategy for the Black Sea, praised its efforts to create a “new east-west energy corridor that would go under the Black Sea and provide an alternative for energy coming out of Central Asia into Europe.”
U.S. energy companies also depend on the region’s pipelines. Chevron and ExxonMobil, both of which maintain operations in Kazakhstan, rely on a pipeline that leads to the Black Sea.
Earlier this year, Defense Department official Mara Karlin spoke about the “critical geostrategic importance” of the Black Sea region, characterizing it as a major frontline for the transatlantic alliance, a major link between Europe and the Middle East, and “a key node for transit infrastructure and energy resources.”
State Department official Geoffrey Pyatt, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who now leads U.S. energy diplomacy, explained that the United States is facing extraordinary opportunities in the Black Sea region, which he described as “one of the fulcrums of the energy map of Europe today.”
One of the most significant regional transformations, Pyatt explained, is “the redrawing of the energy map around the Black Sea that’s taking place.” It includes “new pipeline infrastructure,” such as “the Southern Gas Corridor to bring gas from Central Asia to European consumers.”