PRAGUE, June 6, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The presidents of six Black Sea countries today met at a one-day summit in Bucharest aimed at fostering greater cooperation and, Romania's foreign minister hopes, "a new vision for the Black Sea region."
Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu said at the start of the summit that the six countries -- Romania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- the new vision should "reflect new realities and create better conditions for [the region's] development."
The issues on the agenda ranged widely, including environmental protection and the need for mechanisms to manage "possible crises triggered by terrorist attacks, natural calamities, or pandemics" and the closing statement also named weapons of mass destruction as a threat to the region. However, at the heart of the debate were three security needs -- to secure supplies of energy from sources other than Russia, to reduce international crime, and to end the conflicts triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Importance Of Frozen Conflicts
On the sidelines of the conference, the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders met twice -- on June 4 and on June 5 -- to discuss the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, an issue unresolved since 1994, when a cease-fire left the Azerbaijani territory in the control of ethnic Armenian separatists.
Romanian President Traian Basescu made it clear that he believed the frozen conflicts are not simply a bilateral or regional affair, but require an international response. These conflicts are responsible for "large-scale violation of human rights," breed arms and human trafficking, and contribute to the undermining of democratic institutions, he said.
He warned that "the conflicts in Transdniester, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh or South Ossetia are different, and their solutions, must be different," but that, "although there is no unique, universal model for solving frozen conflicts, they represent a test which neither the Euro-Atlantic community, nor the Black Sea states can afford to fail."
Energizing Black Sea Energy Projects
On the issue of energy, Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu hoped that the summit would send a "strong signal" -- particularly to the rest of Europe -- that "substantial, visionary investment in the region's infrastructure" will be needed if the region is to be able to secure the supply of energy from non-Russian sources to Western Europe.
The issue of diversified energy supplies has grown in prominence since a dispute between Ukraine and Russia cut supplies to Europe in January.
"The three vital communication rings around the Black Sea -- road, railway and maritime -- are far from becoming a reality," Tariceanu said. "A network of oil and gas pipelines across the Black Sea, or the permanent and secure east-west transportation of oil across the Black Sea in high-capacity tankers, are still just projects."
While Tariceanu's comments on energy emphasized the need for broad international involvement in developing the region, the emphasis in initial comments about trafficking was on the region helping itself. Romanian President Basescu highlighted the need to "establish joint missions to consolidate border controls, and regional programs for the better training of customs services, which must be totally cleaned of corruption." Failure to act would, he argued, hold back the region. "It is impossible to imagine the progress of business and economic reforms in the presence of organized crime," the Romanian prime minister said.
The Absent Partner
A sign of increased international involvement in the region came before the summit, when the United States said it intends to participate in the creation of a Black Sea Trust Fund this year. This would function much as the Balkan Trust for Democracy has done, with the focus on supporting NGOs in the region and a range of local education and media projects.
But some of the difficulties of forging a concerted international effort to develop the region were highlighted by Russia's presence only as an observer.
In his opening address, Romania's President Basescu stressed Russia's importance, saying that "Romania considers that no cooperation process in the Black Sea region can be complete without Russia's substantial contribution."
Russia's observer at the summer, Ambassador Aleksandr Tolkach, was quoted as describing the summit as "good" but as having "too many initiatives."
RUNNING HOT AND COLD The crisis over Russian supplies of natural gas to Ukraine that erupted on New Year's Day has implications that spread well beyond these two countries and will impact both economic and political policymaking throughout Europe. On January 19, RFE/RL's Washington, D.C., office hosted a briefing the examined the ramifications of the natural-gas conflict.
CLIFFORD GADDY, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, outlined Russia's "grand energy strategy," in which Ukraine is perceived as merely an obstacle frustrating Russia's energy ambitions in Western Europe and therefore a nonentity in Russia's broader strategic planning. According to Gaddy, Russia's strategic goal regarding energy is to maximize the role of its own energy resources in the world energy markets, so as to increase its geopolitical influence. To do this, it must reduce competition and maximize dependency on its own energy resources, as well as ensure a stable supply.
TARAS KUZIO, a visiting assistant professor at George Washington University, rebutted Gaddy's argument, claiming that Russia's actions evidenced a complete lack of geopolitical strategy and resulted in strong denunciations by Western countries and a loss of political allies in Ukraine. According to Kuzio, Russian President Vladimir Putin's desire to have a deal signed by the January 4 European Union energy summit outweighed his hope of reinforcing opposition to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko during the run-up to Ukraine's March 26 parliamentary elections.
RFE/RL Coordinator of Corruption Studies ROMAN KUPCHINSKY did not fully agree with Kuzio's assessments of Yushchenko or Ukraine. He outlined three major problems that are feeding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The biggest, he argues, is that the state-controlled Russian gas giant Gazprom holds a monopoly on natural-gas sales outside the CIS. Kupchinsky also decried Ukraine's consumption of natural gas, terming it "out of control." Corruption is also a major factor in the conflict, Kupchinsky said, although the extent to which it taints the deal struck between Russia and Ukraine remains unknown.