"BLACK SEA SYNERGY" INITIATIVE AND THE SOUTHERN CAUCASUS
Mikhail Aghajanyan

"Noravank" Foundation
25 January 2010

The Black Sea and Caucasus region has been attracting more attention of
the great international actors recently. By its geographical location
the region is at the merge point of Europe and Asia and it is one
of the main parts of the territory which is called in geopolitical
vocabulary "Eurasia".

The most part of the region - its Black Sea part, is under the direct
influence of two big region actors - Russia and Turkey, as well
as the countries of the neigbouring EU. The US also has strategic
interests in the region. If two first aforementioned actors (which
have direct access to the Black Sea and are in direct proximity to
Southern Caucasus) mainly concentrate on the preservation of their
positions in the region, then the EU and the US act like the powers
which try to enter the political and economic fields of that region.

Russia and Turkey aspire to manifest themselves as the "solid" power,
i.e. the power backed by more military and political potential.

In this region the EU as a supranational structure has no consistent
policy. The realization of such programmes as, for example, "Black Sea
Synergy" or "Eastern Partnership" is the concentrated manifestation of
the interests of the separate EU member countries (Germany, Poland,
Romania). The aforementioned programmes are fully dependent on the
initiative, claims and sequence of actions.

The US is intended to act in the region from the perfect military
and political stance because it believes that, on the one hand, the
gap of the "soft power" usage in the region is already filled up by
the Europeans and, on the other hand, it believes that the region is
extremely militarized and burdened with unsolved territorial interstate
problems. This would allow the US to occupy a military and political
position through the local military presence though today it does not
manage to provide its presence at the whole perimeter of the Black
Sea with the direct and long-term access to Southern Caucasus.

For Armenia the European experience of the involvement and acting in
the Black Sea and Caucasus region is interesting on the assumption
of the following considerations:

Though the direct leverages to influence the situation in the region
are in the hands of Russia and Turkey and partially the US, such
countries as Germany, Poland, Romania try to find the distinctive
characteristics of their policy in the region which creates additional
opportunities for maintaining the balance there and for participation
of Armenia in the regional projects.

The bigger is the actor the more "scaled-up" is the approach to the
Black Sea-Caucasus region: the importance of the region is regarded by
the US mainly in the general regional aspect and not in the context of
selective approach to the countries of the region. And the European
countries try to regard the region from the selective point of view
which has been reflected in the items of the "Eastern partnership"
programme (2008), while in the "Black Sea Synergy" initiative the
regional approach is used. The differentiated approach of the EU to
the each of the countries of the region manifested itself also in
the European Neighbourhood Policy and Action Plans based on it.

The estimation of the interest of the EU and its member countries from
the point of view of energy is rather superficial. In the EU they more
and more realize that the European empowerment, mainly in the Southern
Caucasus will not be full-fledged and long-term if all the pursued
aims are concentrated on Azerbaijan as "energy carrier" and Georgia as
"energy transition country". Armenia which does not possess energy
resources and is not situated on the current transition routes, has
military and political resources and projects its influence necessary
for the maintaining the balance in the region. Putting Armenia
to the foreign policy agenda of the EU and the active correlation
of Armenia's active foreign policy course with the foreign policy
course of the EU receive an estimation in the official structures of
the Brussels. Thus, the European commission says that Armenia widely
associates itself with the Declarations on Common Security and Foreign
policy of the EU (with more than 80% of the declarations in general)
and it actively cooperates with the EU on issues of foreign policy
and security in general1.

The developments in August 2008 showed that the EU tried to secure
its physical presence in the region which at the current stage is
presented in the form of the supervisory committee in Georgia.

"Frozen" conflicts are not regarded as the points which should be
controlled "from outside": for the efficient policy in the region,
whether it is energy or other economic directions, the physical
presence in the region is necessary. And the presence cannot be secured
without balanced and at the same time diversified relations with all
the countries of the region, up to recognition of the new sovereign
state formations.

The political meaning of the EU "Black Sea Synergy" initiative in the
aspects which concern the interests of Armenia and which are regarded
to the settlement of the ethno-political conflicts in the Southern
Caucasus can be presented in the following way.

Preparing to the expansion of the European Union2, the European
Commission, back in December 2006, in its document "On strengthening
of the European Neighbourhood Policy" stated the Black Sea region
the territory of the intensive regional partnership where "Moldova,
Ukraine and the countries of the Southern Caucasus come together with
the EU and with Russia and Turkey" 3.

The importance of the EU activity in the Black Sea region is mentioned
in "Strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy - Presidency
Progress Report" (June 2007): "The Balck Sea region is of great
strategic importance for the European Union and developments there
directly affect the EU. It is time for the stronger, coordinated and
additional involvement of the EU in the region, especially within
the framework of the deepened European Neighbourhood Policy" 4.

In April 2007 European Commission adopted EU policy in the Black Sea
region presenting "Black Sea Synergy - A New Regional Cooperation
Initiative" document.

The inclusion of the countries which do not have access to the Black
Sea in the Black Sea region is substantiated the following way: "Though
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Greece are not littoral states,
history, proximity and close ties make them natural regional actors"5.

Among the EU member countries which are interested in the realization
of "The Black Sea Synergy" initiative there are different approaches
to the role of such countries as, e.g., Russia, in the programme.

Particularly, in the opinion of Poland, Russia should not play a key
role while in the opinion of Romania, Russia should become an equal
partner. There is also information about the aspiration of Poland to
include Belarus in the programme6.

One of the motivations for the "Black Sea Synergy" programme was the
stating of the timeliness of the broader participation of the EU
"in further defining cooperation priorities and mechanisms at the
regional level"7.

The main principle of the operation of the initiative which
was formulated in June 2007, was the principle of the "flexible
geometry": "For the progress of the Black Sea regional cooperation the
participation of all the Black Sea countries is not always necessary
and quite the opposite, it can benefit from the close cooperation with
the initiatives of the neighbouring regions, such as for example the
Danube region"8.

Some wordings in the EU documents state that "Black Sea synergy"
initiative favours the settlement of the "frozen" regional conflicts.

They imply the intention to use the "soft power" by the EU in the
regions where the possibility of the conflicts is high. Thus, it is
mentioned that the "Black Sea synergy is an initiative by the EU and
a means to develop the cooperation in the Black Sea region directed
to boost the democratic and economic reforms and to help settlement
of the conflicts in the region"9 or the "Black Sea Synergy" "aims to
correlate region-wide developments with the resolution of the "frozen
conflicts" in Georgia, Moldova and between Armenia and Azerbaijan"10.

In the text of the initiative there is wording concerning the "frozen"
conflicts and statement that "Special attention must be paid to
promoting confidence-building measures in the regions affected,
including cooperation programmes specifically designed for bringing
the otherwise divided parties together".

This wording is of rather artificial and unrealizable character. On
the one hand, "to bring divided parties together" should be understood
as to "return" the "divided parties" to their former "parent states",
and on the other hand, the EU has not designed the consistent scheme
of trust and cooperation means between the parties to the conflict
in order to create favourable conditions for the stated "bringing
together".

"Black Sea Synergy" initiative has no distinct institutional and
organizational system outline yet. While adopting it, it was decided
that the EU would not arrange separate institutional structure within
the framework of the initiative, because the EU planed to use other
organizations of the Black Sea region, particularly the bodies of the
Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), which had
developed institutional structure.

B. Ferrero-Valdner clarified the stance of the European commission
on this issue in February 2008: "That does not mean re-inventing the
wheel: we do not want to duplicate what others are already doing,
nor is there any desire to compete with ongoing initiatives. That
is why we have turned to the Black Sea's regional organisations;
particularly BSEC with its extensive membership and unique role in
the region. Our objective is not to create new institutions but rather
to build closer contacts with those already working in this area and
see where our added value lies"11.

The European commission intends to use the Black Sea Forum as an
already existing organizational structure for the dialogue and
cooperation12.

In the statements by some EU officials, who directly supervise
the Black Sea and Caucasus region in general and "flashpoints"
particularly13, the involvement of the EU in the settlement of the
conflicts is presented as an accomplished fact, and at the same
time such an involvement is characterized by them as a "direct"
one. Thus, B. Ferrero-Valdner during her presentation at <<Caspian
Outlook 2008>> Bled Strategic Forum (Slovenia, August 2006) stated:
"We are directly involved in the settlement of the conflicts in
Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh and South Ossetia"14.

B. Ferrero-Valdner made the statement before the adoption "Black Sea
synergy" initiative. It says: "The advanced regional cooperation is
not intended for resolving directly old conflicts but it can promote
to the mutual confidence and in a coarse of time it can help to remove
some barriers which block the progress". Thus, we can conclude that
after 2007 and especially after the developments in August 2008 the EU
lowered the bar of their political demands and took the stance between
the "direct involvement" and "advanced regional cooperation". Such
a middle position is the principle of the physical presence in
the conflict regions which is manifested today in the observers'
mission of the EU in Georgia after the events in August 2008. Under
the physical presence the monitoring of the situation in the conflict
zones is meant. By the way, this item is mentioned in the text of the
"Black Sea synergy" initiative: "the EU should also look at ways of
enhancing its participation, e. g., in monitoring".

The possibility of the European mission in Karabakh conflict zone
was mentioned by the EU officials back in 2006, more than two years
before the deployment of the EU observers' mission at the border of
South Ossetia and Georgia. The EU special envoy in South Caucasus H.

Talvitie (he was the EU special envoy from June 2003 to February 2006)
in February 2006 stated: "Europe has promised peacekeepers and a
"blessing ceremony" for Nagorno-Karabakh if Armenia and Azerbaijan
can clinch a deal"15.What does he mean saying "blessing ceremony"? It
was not clarified later but one can assume that de facto it meant
preserving the statehood of Nagorno-Karabakh sine die, after the
deploying peacekeepers mission in Plain-Karabakh.

The estimations of the European experts whose opinion is taken
into consideration by the EU centers taking political decisions are
interesting. After the escalation of the conflict in South Ossetia in
2008 the experts of the European Council on Foreign Relations released
the "Can the EU Win the Peace in Georgia?" report16. The authors
of the report offered the following recommendations concerning the
South Ossetia: "Because the EU has emerged as the principle mediator
between Moscow and Tbilisi, European leaders have a new chance to
influence events. If they seize it, the EU could 'win the peace',
not by trying to restore the old and unstable status-quo in Georgia
or by punishing Russia, but by changing the rules of engagement in
the whole post-Soviet space... Instead of focusing on short-term
sanctions against Russia, the EU should move quickly to raise its
profile in the Eastern Neighbourhood and to help stabilize other
conflict regions - paying attention both to old 'frozen' conflicts
and potential new flashpoints".

1European Neighbourhood Policy - Armenia, MEMO/09/182. Brussels. 23
April 2009.

2In February 2008, a year after the accession of Bulgaria and
Romania to the EU, at the first meeting of the Foreign Ministers
of the countries, which are members of the "Black Sea synergy"
initiative in Kiev, B. Ferrero-Walder, Commissioner responsible
for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, stated:
"With Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU just over one year ago,
the EU is no longer an external actor in this region. Now we are
irrevocably part of the region...".

3Communication On Strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy,
COM (2006)726 final. 04.12.2006.

4Strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy - Presidency Progress
Report, European Council. 10874/07. 21-22.06.2007.

5Black Sea Synergy - A New Regional Cooperation Initiative, COM (2007)
160 final. Brussels, 11.04.2007.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress