- BLACK SEA FORUM SEEKING ITS RATIONALE
- MOSCOW, ANKARA RELUCTANT TO WELCOME NEW BLACK SEA FORUM
- VILNIUS CONFERENCE ON EUROPE'S COMPLETION IN THE EAST

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Thursday, June 8, 2006 -- Volume 3, Issue 111

BLACK SEA FORUM SEEKING ITS RATIONALE

by Vladimir Socor

Presidents Traian Basescu of Romania, Vladimir Voronin of Moldova, Viktor
Yushchenko of Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, Robert Kocharian of
Armenia, and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan were joined by senior officials from
the United States, Turkey, Bulgaria, and international organizations at the
inaugural session of the Black Sea Forum for Partnership and Dialogue on
June 4-6 in Bucharest.

A Romanian initiative, the Forum is tentatively meant to hold annual
presidential-level summits -- the venues rotating among participant
countries -- and thematic or sectoral-cooperation meeting during those
annual intervals. The Forum is not meant to create new regional
institutions, but rather to turn into a regular consultative process among
countries of the extended Black Sea region (defined as including the South
Caucasus to the Caspian Sea) and between this group of countries and
international organizations such as the European Union.

Russia refused to send a delegation to the Forum; instead, it merely
authorized the ambassador to Romania, Nikolai Tolkach, to sit in as an
observer, without taking part in discussions or signing a concluding
document. Tolkach had to be practically corralled to pose for the "family
photo" by the irresistibly jovial Romanian president. Moscow had turned down
the Forum initiative as soon as Bucharest announced it last December:
Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly deprecated the proposed Forum
as redundant, duplicative of existing cooperation frameworks, and apt to
siphon off limited resources from those frameworks (Interfax, December 13,
2005). From that point on and practically until the Bucharest session's eve,
Russia turned down entreaties to join the Forum as a participant and to send
an official delegation: if not one led by President Vladimir Putin, then a
ministerial one under Sergei Lavrov, or at least on some decent level.

Moscow maintains that existing cooperation frameworks such as the Black Sea
Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and the joint naval activity Black Sea Force
(Blackseafor) are adequate in themselves as well as the only possible basis
for deepening regional cooperation. Tolkach reiterated this position to
local media during the summit, thus sniping at the Forum from the sidelines.
Apparently, Moscow would not want the Forum to become a means for Western
countries and organizations to voice their positions on Black Sea region
issues.

Moscow finds BSEC and Blackseafor to its liking because it can dominate them
jointly with Turkey and can also use them to promote Russian objectives in
the region. For its part, Turkey regards itself as Russia's peer in the
Black Sea and is keen to share a leadership role with Russia. There is,
however, a broader political message in Russia's dismissive attitude toward
the Forum: It suggests, first, that it is not for "lesser" countries to take
major regional initiatives on their own that are not worked out from the
beginning with Moscow; and, second, that no regional project can be
successful without Russia's participation in a key role. This is an
oft-heard proposition in Black Sea diplomacy, and Moscow tries to reinforce
by distancing itself demonstratively from projects not its own or perceived
as Western-oriented, such as this Forum.

Nevertheless, Forum organizers hoped until the last moment to secure a
decent-level Russian representation at the founding session as well as
participant status for Russia in the Forum down the road. This consideration
loomed large in shaping the summit's agenda in a way that would not risk
irritating Moscow. In this regard, the Forum summit duplicated (instead of
learning from and avoiding) the experience of the December 2005 summit of
the Community of Democratic Choice (CDC) in Kyiv. There, President Viktor
Yushchenko's forlorn hope (tied to the electoral campaign) to induce Putin
to visit Ukraine trumped the CDC's own democracy-promoting goals and made
for a bland, irrelevant agenda at that summit. Similarly in Bucharest, the
shadow of absentee Russia weakened the Forum's agenda and raised unnecessary
question marks about the rationale of this initiative.

Energy transit and the secessionist conflicts -- those uppermost policy
issues in the extended Black Sea region -- seemed almost lost among a wide
variety of issues on a kaleidoscopic agenda. Several participating heads of
state did not avoid addressing the conflicts. Thus, Saakashvili described
the latest claims by Russia-sponsored secessionist movements to legitimacy
through a "democratic referendum" as a "cannibal-style democracy": It
involves the violent seizure of a territory, ethnic cleansing, despotic
rule, and criminality, all of which is then to be crowned by a referendum
and claims for international recognition on such a basis, Saakashvili noted.

For his part, Voronin criticized the draft of the Forum's concluding
declaration for failing to identify the external source and sponsor of the
secessionist conflicts: Resolving the conflicts will not be possible if the
external factor is not identified with the necessary clarity, Voronin
observed. Aliyev declared that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity would not
be subject to negotiations; while Kocharian characterized Karabakh as a
"classic case of secession through self-determination" -- a formulation
seemingly in line with Moscow-led recent attempts to provide a "model" for
post-Soviet conflict resolution. Aliyev and Kocharian held five hours of
inconclusive talks, including a working dinner with Basescu, during the two
days of the Bucharest summit.

Yushchenko harked back in his speech to the 2005 CDC, although that
initiative does not seem to have survived its birth. He also urged, as he
had then, Black Sea countries to co-invest in a project to build a massive
industrial center and transport hub at Donuzlav on Ukraine's Black Sea
coast, without providing specifics or rationales; and in the same vague
manner he called for coordination among Black Sea, Caspian, and Baltic
countries in addressing energy problems. Yushchenko held a news conference
for Ukrainian journalists, presumably dealing with the deepening instability
back home, and prompting the local press to complain of being excluded.

Aliyev's speech, delivered extemporaneously, stood out for reflecting the
political stability and bright economic prospects of Azerbaijan, possibly
the most successful among the region's countries at this stage. His speech
exuded quiet confidence in the strategy of evolutionary political and
economic reforms on parallel tracks and the advance of Azerbaijan from a
regional to a global role in energy projects.

(Rompres, Moldpres, Interfax-Ukraine, AzerTaj, June 5, 6)


--Vladimir Socor

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Friday, June 9, 2006 -- Volume 3, Issue 112

MOSCOW, ANKARA RELUCTANT TO WELCOME NEW BLACK SEA FORUM

by Vladimir Socor

When the presidents of Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and
Azerbaijan gathered in Bucharest on June 4-5 for the first session of the
Black Sea Forum for Partnership and Dialogue, Russia's minimal presence was
notable.

Russia refused to send a delegation to the Forum and instead, it merely
authorized the resident ambassador in Romania, Nikolai Tolkach, to sit in as
an observer, without taking part in discussions or signing a concluding
document. Romanian President Traian Basescu practically had to corral
Tolkach to pose for the summit's "family photo." Moscow apparently is
concerned that the Forum will become a means for Western countries and
organizations to voice their positions on issues related to the Black Sea
region.

Attending the inaugural session of the Forum were Presidents Traian Basescu
of Romania, Vladimir Voronin of Moldova, Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine,
Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, Robert Kocharian of Armenia, and Ilham
Aliyev of Azerbaijan. They were joined by senior officials from the United
States, Turkey, Bulgaria, and several international organizations.

A Romanian initiative, the Forum is tentatively meant to hold annual
presidential-level summits -- the venues rotating among participant
countries -- and thematic or sectoral-cooperation meeting during those
annual intervals. The Forum is not meant to create new regional
institutions, but rather to turn into a regular consultative process among
countries of the extended Black Sea region (defined as including the South
Caucasus to the Caspian Sea) and between this group of countries and
international organizations such as the European Union.

However, Russia maintains that the existing cooperation frameworks, such as
the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) and the joint naval activity Black
Sea Force (Blackseafor), are adequate in their present composition, which is
limited to "regional" countries. Russia insists that such bodies form the
only possible basis for regional cooperation and it calls for deepening
cooperation in these frameworks without bringing in Western members. Tolkach
reiterated this position to local media during the summit, thus sniping at
the Forum from his observer's perch.

Moscow finds BSEC and Blackseafor to its liking because their limited
membership maximizes Russia's weight within these bodies. Turkey, guided by
parallel calculations of its own, regards itself as Russia's peer in the
Black Sea and is keen to share the leadership role with Russia. Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reasserted that position while visiting
Ankara on May 31 and released his statement in Moscow on June 4, timed to
the Bucharest Forum's opening: "Concentrating the regional countries'
cooperation efforts around Blackseafor and BSEC, which exist and are
functional, is the optimal way to resolve issues in the region" (Interfax,
June 4). Furthermore, Lavrov sent an elaborate congratulatory message to a
totally irrelevant parliamentary assembly of BSEC member countries that
opened in Yerevan the day after the Bucharest Forum, but he did not deign to
send a cable to the Black Sea summit among six heads of state.

Moscow and Ankara jointly resist NATO's proposal to extend the alliance's
maritime security operation, Active Endeavor, from the Mediterranean into
the Black Sea. Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, and Ukraine --- NATO member and
aspirant countries in the Black Sea --- support the alliance's proposal.
Russia, however, calls for institutionalizing Blackseafor and turning it
into a "regional" naval security grouping with a wide range of missions,
including anti-terrorism operations. The proposal is designed to create a
seeming alternative to NATO in the Black Sea and support the argument that
NATO's presence is not necessary there, as the "regional countries" can cope
thanks to Russia and Turkey. For an initial step toward institutionalizing
Blackseafor, Moscow launched during the days of the Bucharest Forum a
proposal to endow Blackseafor with civil defense missions and a
corresponding headquarters.

Beyond those specific calculations, there is also a more general political
message in Russia's dismissive attitude toward the Forum: It suggests,
first, that it is not for "lesser" countries to take major regional
initiatives on their own that are not worked out from the beginning with
Moscow; and, second, that no regional project can be successful without
Russia as a major participant. This is a proposition that Russia seeks to
turn into a general axiom in the Black Sea region and it tries to enforce it
by distancing itself demonstratively from projects not its own, or perceived
as Western-oriented, such as this Forum.

The creation of a Black Sea Trust for Democracy is the only palpable, major
result of the Bucharest summit thus far. The German Marshall Fund of the
United States is the main donor and will also staff the Trust. Other U.S.
foundations as well as the Romanian government are expected to contribute
as well to the Trust's $20 million initial endowment. Announcing this
initiative at the Forum, Jack D. Crouch, deputy national security adviser to
the U.S. President, underscored the abiding U.S. interest of in the region's
security and seeing it advance toward prosperity.

(Rompres, Moldpres, Interfax-Ukraine, AzerTaj, June 5-7)

--Vladimir Socor


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Friday, May 5, 2006 -- Volume 3, Issue 85

VILNIUS CONFERENCE ON EUROPE'S COMPLETION IN THE EAST

by Vladimir Socor

U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney joined the presidents of the three Baltic
states, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia, as well as
other high-level European officials, for a conference on "Common Vision for
a Common Neighborhood" on May 3-4 in Vilnius. The common neighborhood is
that between the Baltic and the Black Sea-South Caucasus.

The Vilnius Conference `06 carries forward a process initiated by Lithuania
in 1997 that led to the creation of the Vilnius Ten group of countries in
2000 for common pursuit of Euro-Atlantic integration. Crowned with success
through the 2002-2004 "Big Bang" enlargement of NATO, that Vilnius Process
continues in a modified form to promote the completion of Europe through
integration of countries in Europe's East -- Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and
Azerbaijan -- and work through Euro-Atlantic institutions toward that goal.
Lithuania's initiatives in the Vilnius Process have turned a small country
into a significant international actor, as did recently Lithuania's active
role alongside far larger countries in the coalition in Afghanistan.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus urged the Vilnius Conference '06 to
initiate a strategic discussion about policies in Europe's East on two
levels: commitment to reforms on the part of these countries and Western
commitment to completion of Europe in the East. However, the context of this
effort at present differs markedly from that of the first two rounds of
Euro-Atlantic enlargement. Many in Western Europe are no longer aboard such
efforts -- indeed in some cases tend to obstruct them -- while Russia has
embarked on a political and economic counteroffensive not only in Europe's
East but within core Europe itself.

Cheney's address in Vilnius introduced a long-awaited new tone in the
Administration's discourse on Russia: "The [Russian] government has unfairly
and improperly restricted the rights of its people. [And] no legitimate
interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation and
blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize
transportation. And no one can justify actions that undermine the
territorial integrity of a neighbor, or interfere with democratic
movements."

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's speech to the conference focused on
Russia's challenge: "Freedom is under threat, the changes that we once
thought were irreversible and universal are now confronted by very serious
forces, intent on promoting very different outcomes. Increasingly
well-organized and financed, and tolerated in the discourse of today's
European debates ... [those] forces in Moscow actively work to undermine our
economies, our sovereignty, using such tools as energy dependence, state
censorship, and the power of monopolies ... The fate of Georgia or Ukraine is
not the only one held in the balance. If Europe fails to respond, it puts at
risk its very system of governance and European security. Let this be a
wake-up call for all European leaders: Without real action and a genuine
recognition of what is at stake, we risk a reversal of the wave of
liberation that strengthened and unified Europe during the past fifteen
years."

Alongside Georgia, Moldova is being directly targeted by Russia for economic
devastation through embargoes on these two countries' main export
commodities -- agricultural produce and wine -- on the Russian market and
manipulation of energy supplies, as well as exploitation of conflicts.
President Vladimir Voronin's speech to the conference reflected the
intimidating effect of these Russian pressures on Moldova, Western support
for which amounts to only a fraction of the support earned by Georgia.
Compared to his speech, however, Voronin's message in private conversations
to the heads of state present in Vilnius was far more straightforward,
reflecting his resolve to maintain the country's European orientation in the
face of Russian pressure. However, recurrent suggestions by some
medium-level American diplomats (apparently bucking the White House line)
and in Brussels to negotiate on Transnistria on Russia-defined terms pose a
problem of a different order.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana's address in Vilnius could
for the most part have fitted any place, moment, or forum. Its only novel
element was a far-reaching deference to Moscow regarding the "frozen
conflicts": "It is up to the parties to settle these conflicts. But we are
willing to help. We do so together with our international partners,
including Russia, whose role is crucial. ... Such an offer is there for
Transnistria and the conflicts in Georgia. But it is up to the parties to
take responsibility and bring about a settlement." In this terminology, "the
parties" means Moldova and Transnistria, Georgia and Abkhazia, Georgia and
South Ossetia. Solana's concept would seem to transform Russia from
initiator of and party to these conflicts into their bona-fide solver; and
EU help seems confined to post-conflict reconstruction, without seriously
attempting to shape the political settlements. Further illustrating the
drift in EU policy, France and Germany each sent a second-tier official to
this summit.

Russia's use of energy supplies for political leverage was a constant
reference point during the conference. Adamkus and Polish President Lech
Kaczynski criticized the German government for the signing of gas deals with
Russia without even informing, much less consulting with, its partners in
the European Union. Meanwhile, Norway's Statoil, bidder for a stake in
Russia's Shtokman gas field, declines to comment on possible oil deliveries
to Lithuania's Mazeikiai refinery for fear that Moscow could retaliate by
excluding Statoil and its Norwegian partner Norsk Hydro from the Shtokman
deal.

(www.vilniusconference2006.lt)



--Vladimir Socor