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Shaheen to admin: Get me the Black Sea strategy

Sen. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-N.H.) wants a Black Sea strategy and she wants it now.

She and Sen. MITT ROMNEY (R-Utah) put language in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act calling on the United States and NATO to “consider adopting robust intergovernmental and interagency strategies for the Black Sea, to facilitate further collaboration among all countries in the region.” That strategy is due in June, but so far Shaheen has heard nothing from the administration about it.

“Not yet,” she told NatSec Daily in a Tuesday morning interview. Radio silence, we further asked? “Yes,” the senator replied. She’s pressed Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN and Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN about the strategy when the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committee member grills them in hearings.

The Black Sea, which borders three NATO nations and two important U.S. partners, is a weak spot for transatlantic security advocates. Russia has warships there, it’s where the annexed Crimean peninsula lies and the waterway is vital for trade. A troubled Black Sea, in effect, means a troubled Europe and NATO.

NSC spokesperson ADRIENNE WATSON said “we believe a Black Sea Strategy will help federal agencies hone our all-of-government effort to support allies and like minded partners in the Black Sea region, including by promoting political engagement, regional security coordination, economic cooperation — including strengthened energy security — and democratic resilience among our allies and partners in the region.” Meeting with his Romanian counterpart last November, Blinken called the Black Sea region “an area of vital strategic importance to us and to NATO.”

Shaheen is more worried about the Black Sea than ever. Russia further militarized the body of water before the war on Ukraine. During the conflict, it has blockaded shipments of grain and other foodstuffs. And a Russian fighter jet last week downed an unmanned American drone over the sea.

“If you didn’t get it when Russia invaded Ukraine and shut down the shipping lanes and it affected our global food supply, then you certainly got it when the drone was downed,” Shaheen told us.

She and Romney are now pushing out a separate-but-related bill seeking a more comprehensive strategy for U.S. engagement with Black Sea-bordering nations, including a blueprint for stronger military and economic ties. The strategy should also include ways to “strengthen democracy” in an area that includes Turkey, a nation run by strongman President RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN.

We asked if Shaheen would reprimand the administration, for example by holding nominations, if she doesn’t get the NDAA-required strategy by the deadline.

“It’s too early to make a determination,” she said. “It’s important for us to have a strategy and I want to see what that is. I will continue to push to try and make that happen and support getting our legislation passed.”