Cooperation in the Black Sea: A Regional Perspective, Odessa, 17-18 September 2008 (Text and Power Point)

6th  International Scientific Conference in Odessa, 17-18 September  2008

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honor and a pleasure to address such a distinguished audience on such a pertinent subject. And it must be added, on such an opportune time, too. The Black Sea has steadily been gaining prominence during the last decade or so, and now, in the light of the recent developments, it has become a hot topic indeed.

I. Introduction

Let me start with clarifying that I will take on the subject matter with a rather clear-cut approach. I am from a country to which, history and geography seem to have collaborated to confer a unique role and place. Look at the map in conjunction with a history book and see what I mean or just wait a second for me to explain under the heading of the historical background. After which I will explore the geopolitical importance of the region, to be followed by its present status and potentials as an area of cooperation. In my conclusion,

there will also be a perhaps over-simplified summary of what Turkey has been believing in and attempting to achieve within the Black Sea context.

However, before going into these, I should like to adjoin a few factual points to highlight that “unique role and place”. Turkey, in addition to the historical dimension I will briefly touch upon in a moment, is presently the country with the longest coast line on the Black Sea, happens to be the oldest NATO member in the region, the possessor of the strongest navy in the Black Sea and the initiator of not only the Blackseafor and the Operation Black Sea Harmony, but also of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and most recently, the  proposer of the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform, a fresh initiative I hope to elucidate  while discussing the potentials for cooperation. One tends to feel that, perceptions and policies of and instruments to be employed by a player with these qualifications would be worth exploring. Therefore, such will be the focus of my presentation.

II. A Historical Background

The Black Sea region was subject to settlements and invasions throughout the centuries. Greek colonies date back to a few centuries before the Christian era. Roman and Byzantine expeditions to the coast around the Black Sea continued at the early centuries of the Christian era.

Between 1500 and 1774 the Black Sea remained almost entirely under the Ottoman rule. In the 16th century the Ottomans controlled almost the entire coastal line of the Black Sea and in the second half of the 16th century they even started to dig a canal to link the Don and Volga rivers in an attempt to send their navy to the Caspian Sea, a project resisted and aborted by the Russian Tsars.

 With the Kainardja Treaty of 1774 Russia got access to the Black Sea and expanded its domination throughout the following centuries. The expansion of the Russian control to the North and South Caucasus caused several waves of emigration from these areas towards the Ottoman territories.

This volatile past rendered the ethnic composition of the population of the Black Sea highly heterogeneous.

After the Second World War, the Black Sea became the south line of “iron curtain” that divided the Soviet block from the rest of the world.

III. The Geopolitical importance of the Region

a)      The International Status of the Black Sea (The Montreux Convention)

The passage from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea, which in turn  leads to the Mediterranean, is through the Straits of Istanbul, one of the most difficult and dangerous waterways  with an extremely congested traffic.

 An international Convention signed in Montreux in 1936 regulates not only the passage through the Turkish Straits, but also the tonnage of the military vessels that non-littoral countries of the Black Sea would be allowed to keep in the Black Sea.

For the purpose of our discussion, the relevant section of the   Montreaux Convention is the provisions that pertain to this limitation. It was aimed at providing and preserving a military balance in order to maintain the stability in the Black Sea. The most important provisions that limit the tonnage of the military vessels of the non-littoral countries could be summarized as follows:

  • The aggregate tonnage of the vessels of the non-Black Sea Powers shall not exceed 30 000 tons.
  • This upper limit may be increased to 45 000 tons in case the tonnage of the strongest fleet in the Black Sea is increased above this figure.
  • The tonnage which any one non-Black Sea Power may have in the Black Sea shall be limited to two-thirds of the aggregate tonnage of the strongest fleet in the Black Sea.           

b) Energy Sources and Routes

Even though the Caspian Sea is not within the remit of this Forum, I for one would argue that the picture will be incomplete without it. After all, none of us can afford to disregard the basic fact that the strategic importance of the Black Sea is inseparable from the huge reserves of oil and gas of the Caspian. And that these are vital for the western world whose own sources of energy are of a rather limited nature. So, all those oil and gas are to be transported from the Caspian Sea to the Western European market .either through the Black Sea or through the territories of countries surrounding the Black Sea.

The US and the EU as two main actors and Turkey as a regional country have similar interests in the Black Sea as far as the energy issue is concerned. The EU wishes to diversify both the sources and the routes of energy. One way of diversification it is to be able to transport the Turkmen natural gas and Kazakh oil across the Caspian Sea, and from there further west.. The American interests are of a more general nature. The US wishes to contribute to the strengthening of the economies of newly independent CIS countries with which it maintains good relations. As for Turkey, it is the co-owner of both an oil pipeline carrying Azeri oil from Baku to its Mediterranean harbour of Ceyhan and a gas pipeline carrying Azeri natural gas again from Baku to the eastern Turkish city of Erzurum. Moreover, there is work going on the mega project Nabucco. Clearly, Turkey would like to see an international atmosphere that will allow the continuation and finalization of the work, present and projected. And there lies the convergence of interests…

Apart from oil and gas, the region is important for Turkey for other reasons as well:taken as a whole, it is the immediate neighbourhood of Turkey. Vast territories in the region were parts of the Ottoman Empire at various period of their history. Ottoman Turkey played an important role in the shaping of the history of the region. There were big waves of migrations from these regions towards the present Turkey throughout the history.  The region is populated by various Turkic peoples. Unavoidably, the instability in the region effects Turkey. Moreover, there are very close cultural and historical ties between Turkey and the bordering countries of the Black Sea. Turkey’s interest in the stability of the region is based on these facts that cannot be ignored.

                        c) Frozen conflicts

The existence of several frozen conflicts is another reason for the importance of the region. They have come to be called frozen conflicts, but some of them are not entirely frozen and break out again from time to time  as we have recently been witnessing.

There are several common features in four frozen conflicts. One of them is that they all resulted from the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. Second, all of them are within the territory of the former Soviet Union. Third, the Russian Federation is the major player in all of them.

·        Trans-Dniestr (Transnistrie)

The breakaway State of Trans-Dniester was born when the Soviet Union began to fall apart. The Moldovan territories that were on the left bank of the river Dniester were inhabited by mainly Russian speaking population while the population living on the Moldova proper spoke Moldovan and identified strongly with the neighbouring Romania. This frightened the Russian-speaking population of Moldova living on the left side of Dniester who felt a much stronger allegiance to Moscow. As a result of this, it proclaimed independence in 1990. The independence is not recognized by any country.

The sustainability of this territory as an independent State is questionable without the diplomatic recognition by the international community. Its annexation to the far away Russian Federation is neither easy, nor practical. And a solution that will satisfy both the Russian Federation and the remainder of the international community is not yet at sight.

·        South Ossetia

South Ossetia was an autonomous oblast of Georgia in the Soviet times. Now the greater part of it is controlled by the government of the de facto independent South Ossetian Republic which is not recognised by any country.

A cease-fire is monitored by a Russian dominated military force whose neutrality is questioned from time to time. However the EU did not show eagerness to share or take over the task of monitoring from the Russian forces.

            In April of 2007, the Georgian government created a temporary administrative unit (Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia) for this territory of 70 000 inhabitants. It is headed by ethnic Ossetians and it will enable Georgia to administer the region through local leaders and to negotiate with Ossetian authorities regarding its final status.

            Clashes broke out again when on 8 August 2008 Georgia made an attempt to occupy Tskinkali, the capital of the South Ossetia. The Russian Federation reacted by sending its armed forces. A cease-fire was arranged. Numeraus contacts and negotations at different levels and at several places followed the ceasefire; the conflict was taken up various international for a with a view to find a solution. Under a joint plan by France representing EU and Russian Federation, international negotiations are scheduled to commence in Genova on October 15, with the prepatory talks starting in September.

            The modalities for regional peace and security, internationally accepted principles, status of refugees and dislocated persons and other agenda items agreed on by the parties will be discussed.

·        Abkhazia

Abkhazia is recognized as an autonomous republic of Georgia. It has a population that dwindled from 550 000 in 2002 to 190 000 in 2007. Only 18 % of this population is Abkhazian. The secessionist movement of Abkhaz ethnic minority declared independence from Georgia in 1992. An armed conflict broke out in 1992 and 1993 between the de facto independent entity and Georgia. With the military assistance of the Russian army the Abkhazians forced the Georgian army to retreat and it resulted in an ethnic cleansing and mass exodus of Georgian population from Abkhazia.

A cease-fire was agreed in 1994 and a Russian dominated force is monitoring the cease-fire. The soverignty dispute is far from being resolved.

South Ossetian and Abkhazian conflicts adversely affect the relations between the Russian Federation and Georgia.

·        Nagorno-Karabagh

This geographical region was an oblast within the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. It has around 190 000 inhabitants. It is officially part of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It declared independence on 10 December 1991, but not recognized by any country including Armenia. However Armenia does not recognize its being part of Azerbaijan either, claiming that the region declared independence at the same time that Azerbaijan became an independent State and that both of them are equally successor States of the Soviet Union.

The UN, EU, US and the Council of Europe have all issued resolutions and declarations to affirm the Azeri sovereignty over Karabagh. However, in spite of this unequivocal position of all major international actors and organisations, no concrete step is taken to resolve the dispute.

Nagorno Karabagh lies at the core of the conflict; however the conflict has other aspects as well: Armenian forces occupy seven provinces in Azerbaijan proper and one million Azeri’s or one fifth of the population are evicted from their homes and became “internally displaced persons”.

Each one of thefrozen conflicts enumerated above is shaped by different parameters. The solution applicable to one of them may not be valid for another. However we may say that 1) the political will of the major players is not strong enough to place these conflicts high on the agenda; 2) progress on these conflicts cannot be expected without the cooperation of the Russian Federation

d)      Turkey’s position with regard to the frozen conflicts

            Turkey is very much in favour of an early and peaceful solution of the frozen conflicts. Two of them affect directly its relations with its neighbours. The Nagorno-Karabagh conflict is one of the major impediments in Turkey’s relations with Armenia.

Turkey’s position is the same as that of the rest of the international community. In line with all major international organizations it believes that Nagorno-Karabagh is the territory of Azerbaijan and that Armenia has to withdraw unconditionally from the occupied Azeri territories.

            On Abkhazia, Turkey, like almost all countries except the Russian Federation, is in favour of a peaceful solution within the framework of the territorial integrity of Georgia. The continuation of this conflict harms Turkey’s interests because of the pressure of very strong ethnic Abkhazian and ethnic Georgian communities in Turkey.

  • Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform

           Turkey, right from the outset, has argued that problems in the Caucasus region have to be resolved by peaceful means, with due respect to the territorial integrity of states, to their independence, and sovereignty.

      This was the same approach that we had vis-a-vis the developments in Georgia. We did not question who was responsible for the beginning of the clashes, but tried to calm down the parties involved and invited them to restraint, so that armed conflict could be stopped immediately, a cease-fire could be reached, and a lasting peace could be established.

     With this understanding, Turkey has launched a new initiative, namely the Caucasus Stability and Cooperation Platform (CSCP) to bring a new impetus to the region. PM Erdoğan and FM Babacan travelled to Moscow on August the 13th, Tbilisi on the 14th and Baku on the 19th where they shared our vision with their counterparts, namely with President Medvedev, PM Putin, President Saakashvili and President Aliyev.

During their contacts, they emphasized the need for restoring stability in the Caucasus, ending the hostilities and resolving the existing disputes through peaceful means. They also reiterated the need to establish a forum for dialogue between the five countries of the region with a view to developing mutual confidence. Our ideas were well received.

     This is not an attempt to make a cease-fire deal or a peace agreement between Georgia and Russia; neither is it an alternative to any institution, mechanism or any international organization which deals with the problems of the Caucasus. On the contrary, it is an additional platform to facilitate the communication between the countries of the region, a comprehensive framework to develop stability, confidence and cooperation, a forum for dialogue. It is intended to bring together five countries of the region, i.e. Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, to discuss issues of common interest.

     Having said this, it is necessary to underline that the CSCP is not an exclusive platform. It is intended to complement the other international fora, mechanisms, and attempts to bring peace and stability to the region. It is quite reasonable to have actors such as the BSEC, the OSCE and the EU in mind which could significantly contribute to the deliberations of the CSCP. The Minsk process and the Neighbourhood Policy of the EU are quite pertinent in this respect.

IV –     Black Sea as an Area of Cooperation

a) The Military importance of the Black Sea

The role of the Black Sea region as an energy corridor and an area of frozen conflicts make it an important region from the military standpoint, but it also offers huge potentials for cooperation both militarily and economically.

After two of the littoral countries of the Black Sea, namely Bulgaria and Romania have become members of NATO and EU, the security and stability of the region has become a Euro-Atlantic issue at the same time. Other developments such as 9/11, the Iraqi war and the uranium enrichment program of Iran made the region all the more important.

As far as the security is concerned, we may talk of risks rather than threats in the Black Sea region. It is not beyond the capacity of the littoral countries to cope with these risks. There are two indigenous initiatives to address such risks: Blackseafor and Operation Black Sea Harmony. These initiatives are based on two pillars:

– The ultimate goal of the initiatives is to attain all littoral countries of the Black Sea.

– The maritime security of the region should be complementary to the Euro-Atlantic security system, because the maritime security is indivisible.

These two initiatives are recognized at present as major security providers in the Black Sea maritime area.

·        The Blackseafor

Originating from a Turkish initiative BLACKSEAFOR (Black Sea Naval Cooperation Task Group) was created in 2001 with the participation of all the littoral States. It aims at contributing to friendship, good relations and mutual understanding in the region through enhancement of cooperation and interoperability among the naval forces of the littoral States. Operations and tasks of BLACKSEAFOR range from counter-terrorism to search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, environmental protection, mine-counter measures, goodwill visits and any other task to be agreed by all parties.

All littoral States of the Black Sea have the common understanding that the security in the Black Sea constitutes vital importance for the littoral States and that, therefore, they should take primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and stability in the area through engagement of their common assets and capabilities. BLACKSEAFOR is an instrument in place that can be used for the achievement of this objective.

Currently, with a view to better responding to new risks to security, BLACKSEAFOR is undergoing a transformation process.

·        Operation Black Sea Harmony

This initiative was launched by Turkey initially as a national operation to deter, disrupt and prevent the threat of terrorism and illicit trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, their means of delivery and related materials in the Black Sea. The Operation is now open to all Black Sea countries. Russian Federation and Ukraine have already joined the operations of the Black Sea Harmony.  The aims of these operations are to:

  • Demonstrate naval presence;
  • Exchange of information on suspected merchant vessels;
  • Conduct reconnaissance operations; and
  • Trail or shadow suspected merchant vessels.

The operation consists of regular patrols with frigates and patrol boats in pre-defined surveillance areas in the Black Sea. Helicopters, submarines, maritime patrol aircraft and coast guard vessels assist in this activity.

Operation Black Sea Harmony is conducted in cooperation with the ongoing NATO Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean.

In addition to these initiatives, a meeting is held in Istanbul in 2006 with the participation of the coast guards commanders of the littoral countries. They signed during this meeting a document under the title of “Agreement on Black Sea Coast and Border Guards Cooperation Forum”.

There is also an initiative launched by Bulgaria. It is the creation of an institution called Black Sea Border Coordination and Information Centre. This Centre is established in Burgas in 2003 and is aimed at the maritime security of the littoral coastguards.

e)      Black Sea as an area of economic cooperation

The complementarities between the economies of countries surrounding the Black Sea offer enormous potentials for cooperation. The cooperation initiatives in the military fields are already explained. As to the cooperation in the economic field, the most concrete initiative in this area is the establishment of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

  • The Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC)

The establishment of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) was the very first initiative to capitalize on the new parameters that were emerging in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union. BSEC was established on the idea that stronger economic cooperation among the Black Sea countries would enhance stability in the region. Thus, its institutional framework was set up with the underlying motive of integrating the region into the world economy. Taking economic cooperation as a common denominator, the founders of the Organization had the far-reaching objective of turning different approaches in the region into a common understanding of peace, stability, democracy and the spirit of conciliation. In this context, BSEC has come a long way towards helping the member States’ ongoing process of transformation.

The growing local and international interest in the Black Sea region imposes on BSEC the obligation to play a more active role and the re-emerging spirit of cooperation between the members gives the BSEC the chance to respond positively to new opportunities and challenges.

The economic potential of the BSRC region is impressive. Encompassing an area of approximately 20 million square kilometres with 330 million people, the Black Sea region presents huge and dynamic economic opportunities. Its vast natural and human resources enabled the BSEC countries to have remarkable economic growth and development in a short span of time.

BSEC is also viewed by the international community as the main platform of cooperation in the region. Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus, Croatia, United States, Tunisia, Israel and the EU Commission have Observer status within BSEC. Some other countries as the United Kingdom, Japan, Iran, Hungary and Egypt (for renewal) have also applied for Observer Status.

Starting with purely economic cooperation, BSEC has broadened its scope of activity to encompass new fields including environmental protection, science and technology, institutional renewal and good governance, and soft security measures in the course of 15 years. Tangible outcomes started to come out of broad range of fields of cooperation in the course of time. Recently signed two Memoranda of Understanding on the “Development of Black Sea Ring Highway” and the “Motorways of the Sea” are important in terms of their targets, as well as their expected positive impact on the development of trade and investment among the BSEC countries. Two Agreements on the facilitation of visa insurance for businessman and professional drivers are underway. Also the creation of the Project Development Fund, which is designed to finance projects by partners from at least three member states, is a modest, yet significant achievement.

Another main pillar is the endorsement of a sector by sector approach, which will also correspond with the project-oriented vision that BSEC has recently adopted. At the level of a given sector, priority should be given to making further progress in the fields of trade and investment, transport, energy, environment and combating organized crime.

The EU is closely interested in the region and more specifically in the activities of the BSEC. The European Parliament adopted on 10 July 2008 a Resolution on the EU Commission’s 2007 Enlargement Strategy Paper. In this Resolution there is a specific reference to the Black Sea region and more specifically to the BSEC. It reiterates the “importance of devising a more sophisticated and comprehensive EU Strategy for the Black Sea region that goes beyond the current synergy initiative and envisages the establishment of a Black Sea Cooperation Agreement, which should include the EU, Turkey, all Black Sea littoral States as equal partners, while seeking the full involvement of Russia, and which could, at a later stage, develop into a Union of the Black Sea”. The EU believes that such a multilateral framework would offer the countries involved the possibility of strengthening their cooperation with the EU across a wide variety of policy fields.

V – Conclusion

I will attempt to base what has mostly been a rather specific and descriptive presentation so far, to a wider and more general context in my concluding words. Let me start with a very brief but inclusive depiction:

-We are still going through a transition period in the wake of the end of cold war and of bipolar world.

-The decade following the fall of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact has been one of uncertainty in the sense that no one knew what kind of a global order would finally emerge.

-We could see that globalization was gathering momentum, accompanied by fragmentation however contradictory it may appear. There were micro-nationalism, a new focus on “smaller scales”, on communities, non- governmental organizations, civic societies, individual and group-based initiatives..

-9/11 marked a turning point, to be closely followed by war on terrorism.

-Since then we have been living in a less predictable, more dangerous world, still uncertain about the future world order.

– We believe that under the circumstances we should try harder to find solutions to our problems, old and new. (While some longer standing ones like poverty or drug trafficking are deteriorating, the relatively fresh ones like the growing disillusion and the sense of hopelessness in the masses populating the so-called failing states are attaining alarming levels. Not to mention the environmental issues.)

-We also believe that the best and most “economical and practical” way of doing this is by means of regional initiatives.

-Turkey is by no means a novice in this. Since the founding of the Republic we have been highly interested in regional organizations with a view to search for local or regional solutions to disputes between neighbours or regional countries. The ultimate aim has been to reduce or if possible eliminate the problems and enhance cooperation to the benefit of all concerned, to have an atmosphere of peace and security prevail in the region so that every one  would be able to concentrate on all-important issue of  social and economic advancement for our peoples.

-The Black Sea in conjunction with the South-East Europe presents an ideal ground for such enterprises. Common problems afflict the region: illegal immigration, human trafficking, drugs on-route to the western metropolis’, ecological problems, energy transportation, name it.. It is only logical to look for common solutions through local-regional cooperation and partnership.

-Ordinary wisdom dictates that the lower the level (and of course the earlier) the problem is diagnosed and a solution is attempted, the easier it is to settle it. Therefore, it has been our view that regional countries, neighbours in particular, should join hands to form appropriate organizations which will serve as medium for discussion of regional issues and problems.

-It is for this reason that Turkey has always been an active proponent of both regional initiatives and regional solutions for regional issues and disputes. An approach which is even more fitting under the current conditions.(Major powers seem to be intent on following policies which may have  the potential of putting them on a collision course in the Black Sea. A circumstance more evident with regard to Montreaux Convention and the passage through the Straits.)

-Ladies and gentlemen, I devoted my time almost exclusively to the modes and fora of cooperation because we believe, Machiavelli notwithstanding, the means, the instruments are important.  Now, perhaps in reply to your questions and comments, we might be able to briefly touch upon some other aspects as well. Thank you all very much.

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