The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation (BST) celebrated its 5th anniversary with more than 80 policymakers, opinion shapers, and civil society and media representatives from the countries of the Black Sea region, United States, and European Union, on March 7 and 8.
BST, which is a project of the German Marshal Fund of the United States (GMF), aims to promote regional cooperation and good governance in the wider Black Sea region. In 2007, GMF, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation started the initiative as a public – private partnership working in collaboration with a range of donors to promote security, stability and development in the Black Sea region.
To commemorate its 5th year of activities in the region, BST in cooperation with the Presidency of Romania held a conference entitled, “From Wider Black Sea Region to Eastern Neighborhood: Change of Name or Change of Game.” The main topics focused on the challenges the Black Sea region currently faces such as, development of civil society, the role of Islam and the media, energy security, transit and economic opportunities, regional security, and geopolitical orientations between the West and East.
Participants discussed the vulnerability of the region, where efforts for national and territorial self-determination conflict with the territorial integrity of others, and where supporting one alliance could provoke security threat perceptions by others. The region remains a platform where rivalry between the United States and its NATO allies on one side, and Russia on the other over wrangle over the political, military and economic influence, most of which is connected with energy resources and transit route opportunities to Western Europe. With ongoing conflicts between Russia and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Turkey and Armenia, Tiraspol and Chisinau and unrest in the Northern Caucasus Republics, the Black Sea region remains a highly sensitive place.
As speakers noted, most of the Black Sea countries are not rich in gas or oil but have strategic importance sitting on the transit routes from Caspian and Central Asian resources to Europe. For instance, successful investment and control policy over transit routes in South Caucasus and further in the direction of Europe are regarded by Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan as issues of national security. Both countries make serious investments in both transit routes for their resources, and in refinery industries, securing further added value to their exports. The conflicts between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Turkey and Armenia have contributed to leaving Armenia out of energy transit routes, which further escalates tension.
Similarly to being at crossroads for energy transit routes, many of the Black Sea countries are also in between the EU - NATO and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - Eurasian Union proposed by Russia. Georgia and Ukraine drew most of the attention of the speakers and audience, as questioning centered on the commitments of both countries towards their western integration. The European Union and NATO were repeatedly pointed out as long term goals for Georgia, which would help strengthen Georgian democratic reforms and institutionalize its western orientation. Yet Georgia has to be realistic about its NATO integration and membership, as commitments and promises of the West seem increasingly distant. Ukraine remains in its European-Russian pendulum – looking for economic opportunities from the EU while preserving its special economic relationships with Russia. The Eurasian Union continues to be seen as a non-realistic project by Westerners and people from the region.
A Regional Cocktail reception, featuring flavors from the Black Sea region rounded off the 5th Anniversary celebrations. BST partnered with the embassies of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine to give guests an opportunity to taste delicacies and drinks from the respective countries.
The Regional Cocktail also featured a special sculpture made for the BST anniversary by “Grădiniță de Grasshopper”. The sculpture named ’’Tension of Equilibrium,” articulates the existing relations between states. Fashioned from water from the Black Sea, a network of attracting forces stands as a testament to the cultural interchange that has stood the test of time. The sculpture can only work if all elements are in place - if one is taken away, the sculpture will collapse.