Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Black Sea Region: New Economic Cooperation and Old Geopolitics

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

The Black Sea Region: New Economic Cooperation and Old Geopolitics

Article excerpt

The Black Sea is strategically located between southeast Europe and Asia Minor and it connects its littoral countries to the Mediterranean Sea and the world beyond. In 1992, after the collapse of communism and the break-up of the former Soviet Union, at Turkey's initiative the countries of this region signed a declaration that set up the Black Sea Economic Cooperation bloc (BSEC). The new organization was confronted, however, with problems of cultural diversity, economic stagnation, and opposing geopolitical agendas. Turkey desired to expand its influence in the area and pushed for increased economic cooperation. Russia sought to perpetuate its political and military domination. Romania and Bulgaria pursued a policy of Euro-Atlantic integration., Ukraine and Georgia sought to assert their newly found independence from Moscow, while NATO adopted open-door policies with the intention of expanding into the region.

Key Words: Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, European Union, NATO, CIS.

For most of its modern history, the Black Sea was of limited importance to the Western world. However, with the demise of Communism and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the expansion of NATO and the European Union toward the east and the discovery of huge new oil and gas reserves around the Caspian Sea have combined to trigger a level of international attention unknown for this region in recent history, so that one might well ask whether this is just a temporary phenomenon or whether we are witnessing the emergence of a new center of global importance.1

The fall of Communism and the birth of the newly independent countries around the Black Sea offer unique political and economic opportunities to integrate this area into the modern Western-led world. However, three important questions remain. Will Russia, the main successor state of the former Soviet Union, accept a loss of status and cooperate as an equal partner with the other countries that border the Black Sea? And even if so, given the mosaic of cultures and interests that makes up the region, will the Black Sea countries prove capable of collaborating to develop the opportunities that the changing circumstances might offer. Last but not least, what will be the attitude of the United States and of the countries of the European Union toward this newly important region?

A Brief Geographic and Historical Background

The Black Sea occupies a central position dividing Europe from Asia Minor. In a way, it is an extension of the Mediterranean Sea, with which it is linked via the small Sea of Marmara, the narrow Dardanelles and the Bosporus. In comparison to the Mediterranean Sea, which has a surface area of almost a million square miles, the Black Sea is only 168,500 square miles in size; but it is larger than the better-known Baltic and Red Seas. In addition, the Black Sea is deep, reaching over 3,600 feet; but its waters are heavily polluted and have a toxic composition that makes life impossible at depths below around six hundred feet.

Known as Pontus Euxinus by the Romans, the Black Sea has been of major importance to the inhabitants of the area since ancient times. It was sailed in antiquity by Greek sailors and traders who founded its first city ports. Most Black Sea ports of today have their roots in Classical Europe, and ancient Greek and Roman ruins are still visible around them. The Romans controlled the western and southern shores of the sea and used them for commerce. One of the ancient silk roads connecting the West and the East also passed through the Black Sea area. The Byzantine Empire continued the Roman control of the Black Sea until the latter eventually fell into Ottoman hands, and for some centuries thereafter it became a Turkish lake, with its navigation and trade serving mainly Turkish interests. The ascent of Russia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries coincided with the gradual retreat of the Ottoman Empire and brought a new balance of power in the region. …

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