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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Black Sea: Searching for a new vision

At the heart of a new attempt to foster cooperation in the Black Sea are the desire to secure alternative supplies of Russian energy, to reduce international crime, and to end the conflicts triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

By Eugen Tomiuc for RFE/RL (06/06/06)

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 4 June and on 5 June - 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".

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