Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Contending Agendas for the Black Sea Region: A Regional Alternative

Academic journal article Demokratizatsiya

Contending Agendas for the Black Sea Region: A Regional Alternative

Article excerpt

The fall of the Soviet Union created an atmosphere in the Black Sea area in which his- torical sources of tension and grievances became difficult to manage. The disputes over Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Chechnya, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia have prevented expansion and the deepening of regional cooperation. The transformation of regional politics since the end of the Cold War, on the other hand, has induced the emergence of a cooperative environment around the Black Sea. It has enabled the Euro-Atlantic com- munity to interact with regional countries, prompting a gradual shift in the area toward Western political and economic space.1

Discussion about whether the Black Sea constitutes a region in the post-Cold War era still continues. The willingness of regional actors to be considered within a shared regional identity was clear at the beginning of 1990s when these states laid the ground- work for a regional organization and defined its emergence.2 As a growing body of literature has attested, it is certainly academically possible to argue in favor of regional identity for the Black Sea area.3 This paper accepts its definition as a specific region, and refers to an area stretching from southeastern Europe to the western shores of the Caspian Sea.

The number of political, economic and military actors who can influence the region's future has multiplied since the end of the Cold War. In terms of regional geopolitics, control of the region constitutes a prize of considerable value. This, at times, has led to threats to regional and international stability. This paper will argue that the attention of larger powers-specifically the US, the EU, and the Russian Federation-can cause conflict, and that regional alternatives may offer better prospects for the area's future. Accordingly, the paper will first discuss how the security interests of these larger powers have centered on the Black Sea; then, it will focus on one of the regional alternatives to the great powers' conflicting visions of the region's future.

Great Power Competition in the Wider Black Sea4

In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, while the Euro-Atlantic community was occupied with conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and the restructuring of Central and Eastern European countries, the Black Sea region did not attract much interest. Russia, preoccupied with maintaining global influence and an ongoing arms race with the US, chose to limit its sphere of influence to its "near abroad"-specifically the South Caucasus, Ukraine, and Moldova. After the successful integration of the Central and Eastern European countries to transatlantic structures and the pacification of southeastern Europe,5 Western attention shifted further east. The Black Sea gained even more strategic significance as Euro-Atlantic threat perceptions shifted toward the east and south during the early 2000s-particularly in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist atacks in the US and the March 2004 attacks in Madrid. The region began to be seen as the backdoor to the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) region.6 This heightened Western attention was further strengthened through the admission of Romania and Bulgaria to NATO in April 2004. Moreover, a number of former Soviet states along the north and east of the Black Sea-Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan-became strategically important to the US in securing the east-west energy corridor linking Europe to Caspian-area resources and in controlling northern approaches to BMENA. Thus, the US decisively moved to extend its influence to the Black Sea area, arguing that it had become a stakeholder with vital interests in the region.7

American involvement prompted other interest in the region. Both Russia, which perceived the US as an unwelcome guest, and the EU, which had previously resisted pressures to develop a regional outlook, became more interested in regional projects. Russia felt increasingly surrounded; as the US simultaneously exerted greater military and political pressure over the region via NATO enlargement, bilateral defense agreements, and encouragements of pro-western elites, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed his discomfort about the "US intrusion" on February 10, 2007 at the Munich Conference on Security Policy. …

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