Ben Hodges: Biden Administration should announce a comprehensive strategy for the greater Black Sea region

Biden Administration should announce a comprehensive strategy for the greater Black Sea region that includes sustained and substantial diplomatic and economic efforts as well as military efforts to ensure security and stability in the region and development of prosperity and societal resilience for all Black Sea nations. This would include calling for immediate NATO membership for Georgia and MAP for Ukraine’, - the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), Ben Hodges sees the move as a precautionary measure by the West against further Russian provocations. How should Ukraine and the West react to further provocations by Russia?

What would be more effective US steps considering the current situation in the region, both in the South Caucasus and around the Black Sea countries? How should Georgia deal with the Russian disinformation campaign and its impact; and would the implementation of the Anaklia project be a concrete message of the Georgian government’s position as well as the position of the country? ‘Europetime’ spoke to a former commander of the

-Dear General, we can see that the situation in Ukraine is deteriorating day by day. What is the response to the next provocations of Russia and how should Ukraine and the West act?

I see three things that need to happen now, on top of the Sanctions that have been announced and the on-going military support (training and equipment):

#1 Biden Administration, in coordination with our Allies (especially Germany, France, and UK), needs to continue to make it very clear that further Russian attacks are unacceptable and that protection of Ukrainian sovereignty is a priority for all of us. Germany and France have not been strong enough thus far in their condemnation of Kremlin actions so the Biden Administration has much work to do here;

#2 Biden Administration should continue to support our Ukrainian partners with economic and military aide and increased intelligence-sharing, but encourage the UKR govt to use this opportunity to clean up any inefficiencies and corruption within Ukraine in order to build trust of the Ukrainian people in their own government and strengthen the societal resilience necessary to resist Kremlin disinformation efforts. I would include in this that the Rada should be give oversight and full transparency of the Defence budget of Ukraine;

#3 Biden Administration should announce a comprehensive strategy for the greater Black Sea region that includes sustained and substantial diplomatic and economic efforts as well as military efforts to ensure security and stability in the region and development of prosperity and societal resilience for all Black Sea nations. This would include calling for immediate NATO membership for Georgia and MAP for Ukraine.

-We have heard strict assessments and statements by the US administration and even from the first person regarding Russia. What steps would be more effective in the current situation in the region, both in the South Caucasus and around the Black Sea countries?

#1 Germany and France have got to do more to put pressure on the Kremlin to live up to its international obligations with respect to the OSCE and transparency for exercises;

#2 very publicly hold President Putin personally responsible for the health of Mr. Navalny;

#3 Increased intelligence-sharing between USA, UKR, Romania and Georgia;

#4 increased priority of the greater Black Sea region which means increased resources...especially sustained presence of US Navy in the Black Sea, within the parameters of the Montreux Convention; and

#5 announce an annual exercise program that combines air, land, sea, and special forces exercises in the region each year.

-In your previous interviews with our news agency, you have repeatedly stated that Russia recognizes only force and the slogan “don’t irritate Russia”, even at the expense of Georgia and Ukraine’s non-accession to NATO, etc. will only be a counterproductive action. We also know that Russia encourages internal strife and political crises in these countries. The majority of the citizens of Georgia, according to all polls, want Euro-Atlantic integration and strive for it. But taking into consideration the disinformation and anti-Western campaign carried out by Russia, as well as recent developments in Karabakh and the ongoing processes in Ukraine, don’t you think it’s time to move beyond the statements of the West and take more effective steps, like NATO enlargement?

I think it is time for the people of Georgia and the government of Georgia to decide for themselves what they really want. Building a strong, resilient society that trusts its media and its government and its legal institutions and having a strong economy that unleashes the talent and potential of the amazing young people of Georgia is how Georgia can best resist Russian disinformation and corrupting influences. For sure, the United States can and will continue to look for ways to invest in the development of Georgia’s economy and infrastructure. But Georgians should ask whether or not their government is doing all it can to make that possible. At this point, I don’t think that is the case. Large businesses will be reluctant to invest in infrastructure projects if they don’t have confidence in the transparency of the transactions and the prevention of interference due to Kremlin influence or perhaps internal malign influence.

-Turkey supported the issue of Ukraine's integration into NATO, making a similar statement regarding Georgia earlier. It is important for the West to ally with Turkey in the region, for Turkey - to increase its role as an independent player. The question is whether it is possible to align the interests and deepen cooperation in this case?

We have got to fix the relationship between Turkey and the USA, rebuild trust, don’t let our relationship be defined by the S400 decision. It was a mistake for Turkey to buy S400 and I don’t excuse that. But Turkey is a long-time reliable Ally that understandably feels it is not appreciated or respected by the West or by the United States. Turkey is so important to NATO as well as to the USA. A Biden Administration strategy for the greater Black Sea region must include fixing this strategic relationship. It’s time for TUR-USA 2.0. But Turkey has to want it too.

-America is trying to pursue a coordinated policy with Europe in the region. At the meeting of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the efforts of Europe under the leadership of Charles Michel to resolve the crisis in Georgia were assessed and supported. Dear General, is defusing crises the only way to solve the crisis or do we need more substantial settlement mechanisms given that Russia has always been viewed as the inciter of all internal conflicts which has always seized the opportunity to do so?

Western Europeans consistently fail to hold the Kremlin accountable for its routine violations of international law, refusal to be transparent in its exercises, and refusal to allow the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to do its job in Ukraine. The Kremlin is frequently exposed for murder and espionage in Western European capitals. Yet it seems that business interests drive foreign policy in Berlin and Paris more than holding the Kremlin accountable. Until this stops, and President Putin is betting it won’t, then the Kremlin will exploit these gaps and weaknesses in the response of the West, especially since he believes that the USA can’t do it alone and that successive Administrations are more focused on China than Russia.

-Do you think the implementation of the Anaklia project should to be on the agenda again? Will it be a concrete message of Georgia’s position and as well as its positioning?

This is a good example of where the Georgian government said one thing about wanting western development and investment but in fact did little to make it a reality.

The Anaklia project would be a game changer for the entire region, by opening up the east-west economic corridor between Europe and Eurasia. I hope the Biden Administration will put this on the agenda, as part of a broader strategy for the greater Black Sea region. But I hope that the Georgian government will put it on the agenda as well.

So far, I think Kremlin influence has slowed the project - they don’t want to see Georgia become prosperous or for there to be a route between Eurasia and Europe that doesn’t go thru Russia. I also believe that forces inside Georgia, with significant political and business influence, also don’t want to see this project happen to be a competitor to Poti or Batumi. I think this is very narrow-minded. Georgia needs to think big about the entire nation becoming the portal between Europe and Eurasia and invite investment in infrastructure (ports, rail, pipelines, telecommunications, storage, and roads) to make it possible.

-It was reported that the UK and on 11 September the US military contingent will completely leave Afghanistan. How do you assess this decision?

I am relieved with this decision, although it causes me to feel melancholic, when I think of the lost lives and effort that have been invested there and the thousands of Afghans who have died there.

I’m proud of what we have all done in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. I am proud of my own service as part of RC South in Kandahar 2009-2010. We, the coalition, including Georgia, accomplished the mission, for two decades, of making sure that Afghanistan could not be the launching pad for terrorist attacks on the United States or our Allies and Partners. We improved life for thousands of women and children in Afghanistan. We gave the Afghans the best possible chance, at huge expenditure of lives and treasure, to create a better life and government for themselves.

But no US Administration (Bush, Obama, Trump, Biden) was willing to do all that was necessary to force Pakistan to deny safe haven to the Taliban or AQ. So long as that remained the situation, then we would never “win”. I don’t think we should continue to send our young Women and Men to Afghanistan in such a situation. We do need to maintain a presence there for counter-terrorism and to provide normal type support to the Afghan government and people as we do in many other trouble spots around the World. And we should offer immediate immigration from Afghanistan to a country of choice for any Afghans who supported the Coalition as interpreters or employees or who will be particularly threatened by a resurgent Taliban in the coming years. But I agree with President Biden...it is time for this mission to end.