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Summary: A East-West Strategic Corridor connects Central Asia to the Eastern border of the EU and NATO via the Southern Caucasus, as both a physical corridor for transportation, trade, and energy, and a virtual one for economic and investment projects. The development of this corridor will bring benefits to all countries it directly involves, to their neighbor countries, and to the EU and United States in their stated intention to access the resource-rich land-locked Central Asia. The corridor links this region to Europe and further to the Atlantic, providing for alternative sources and routes for energy and trade, and a secure route that could be used for the transport of military material inside NATO. It brings economic and security benefits to the region, while also exposing the local populations to the values and principles of modern Western societies, particularly democracy and human rights.
The East-West Black Sea/Caspian Sea Corridor in the Age of Uncertainty
by Iulian Chifu
From the Editor In the five years since the launch of the Black Sea Trust, the Black Sea region has gone through dramatic events and major changes, which affected both individual countries and the region as a whole. The Black Sea Trust has devotedly assisted civic groups in the nine Black Sea countries with reacting or adapting to political and social events, researching the dynamics of the region, promoting stronger relations with international community, and building bridges between societies or groups in conflict. Five years on, the Trust reflects on the current context in the region and the challenges ahead. Introduction The East-West Black Sea-Caspian Sea Corridor perfectly complements the New Silk Road, introduced by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011. As a project for Afghanistan and the broader region, the New Silk Road is about transportation, trade, and energy linking Central Asia via Afghanistan to Pakistan, India, and China, re-connecting economies that had been torn apart by decades of war and rivalry. For its part, the EastWest Corridor gives the economies of Central Asia and, through them, of East and South Asia, direct access to Europe, so they perfectly complement each other. The project is not without challenges. Political and electoral contexts now and in the coming two years, and the historical events that will be commemorated in 2015, raise new risks to the development of the corridor. Conflict in Syria, immigration to Russia by Syrian Circassians, the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympic Games as well as the commemoration of 100 years since the events of 1915 could each considerably delay the project. The project could be secured by the clear political commitment of the countries it involves, which would offer a legitimate guarantee for its sustainability, and by the manifest interest of the United States and the EU. The Importance of the East-West Corridor The strategic weight of Central Asia derives from its proximity to several conflict zones, but also from its economic potential and vicinity to two major actors, Russia and China, both of which have uncertain relations with the West. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran are also in close proximity. Any direct and safe access into the heart of Central Asia should be a strategic security incentive for the West. Central Asia’s riches and economic potential are of interest to the EU, which needs alternative sources and routes of energy. The entry of the United States and the EU in the region would change the regional power game and would bring a needed counterbalance to Russia and China.
The Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation B-dul Primaverii nr. 50 Corp 6 “Casa Mica” Sector 1 Bucharest, Romania T +40 21 314 16 28 F +40 21 319 32 74 E BlackSeaTrust@gmfus.org
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The East-West Black Sea-Caspian Sea Corridor grants convergence of interests between the actors involved. For Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, the corridor offers direct access to a third major player — Europe and/or the United States — and thus facilitates a change in the geopolitical balance of powers. It encourages Western investment, needed in resource exploration and energy, and allows for a transfer of knowledge and technology to the region. Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Romania would also benefit from the corridor. Increased trade and contacts would ensure the stability of the countries and the flow of investments, triggering extensive development. The benefits of this strategic corridor would also likely spill over to neighboring countries. Turkey would find itself linked closer to Azerbaijan and to the Central Asian countries with Turkic historical identities and links. Ukraine would be a major beneficiary of the East-West Black Sea-Caspian Sea Corridor, not least because of the opportunity it offers for trading with the Central Asian countries and for importing oil and gas. The East-West Corridor is a logical strategic next step for the EU and the United States and is of immediate benefit. Should it enjoy the political support of the countries involved and the public support of the United States, NATO, and the EU, it would facilitate a series of much needed projects covering trade, transportation, energy exports, and investments. In the shorter term, it would allow for a safe retrieval of military equipment now stationed in Afghanistan. The corridor could prove to be a solid deterrent against conflicts in the region and an important strategic incentive to stabilize the regions to the south of this corridor — Syria, Iran, and the Greater Middle East — but also to the north, especially the Northern Caucasus. The Strategic East-West Black Sea-Caspian Sea strategic corridor can play a role as a common project (and the principle for peace keeping, conflict resolution, and confidence building associated with this concept in the Western Balkans). The very existence of the common project would prevent these conflicts from being reignited, since the benefits to the countries in the region would outweigh any from provocation and conflict. Sustained exposure to Western values and modus vivendi is an important potential effect of the corridor project. First, it is a direct and short link to the EU and NATO border at the Romanian Black Sea coast at Constanţa. At the same time,
cooperation through transportation, trade, energy, and investment is an important confidence-building measure, which is of importance for a region tarred by numerous conflicts. Current Challenges to the Corridor Developments over the last six months have generated potential challenges to the strategic project. Conflict around Nagorno-Karabach may escalate after presidential elections in Azerbaijan, scheduled for this year; the delimitation of maritime borders in the Caspian Sea has generated tense relations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and many issues are still to be solved between all coastal states; the future of the Trans-Caspian Sea pipeline remains unclear; and events in Romania, Georgia, and Armenia negatively influence the will and/or ability to embark on the project. In Romania, events in the summer of 2012 revealed an internal fight for power and placed uncertainties on the country’s commitments as a member of the EU and NATO. The new governmental majority, elected a few months later, has stated its adherence to Romania’s internal and external obligations as a member of the transatlantic institutions, yet this followed an electoral campaign marked by anti-European and anti-American rhetoric, while politicians within the governmental coalition continue to make eyebrowraising statements. This and the electoral campaign of December have placed suspicion on the country’s ability to embark on and maintain strategic projects, either current or future, despite the apparent continuity from the current president’s remaining two years in office. Georgia underwent a peaceful change of power following elections in October 2012. The new government was quick to confirm continuation of the country’s course toward NATO and the EU imprinted by its predecessor, yet its “reset” with Russia raises nervousness both within and outside the country, as do a few of its domestic policies. The new ruling coalition took precipitous steps to punish many of the former officials for wrongdoings and abuses in power, in a process that unfolded so quickly and so intensely that it resembled political revenge through selective justice. This threatened the fragile “cohabitation” between Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili and Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, and raised fears of tension between their foreign policy priorities. Subsequently, an agreement on constitutional changes was negotiated and the strategic orientation
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of the country and sustainability of the projects involving Georgia could enjoy constitutional guarantees, which calmed spirits and alleviated concerns. Simultaneously, some of Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili’s statements created concern among the country’s neighbors. The prime minister demanded revision of the energy contracts with Azerbaijan, cited Armenia as a great example for Georgia in its relations with NATO, and called for a “balanced approach” to both Russia and the West that reminded some of Ukraine’s new swing between the two powers. Those statements triggered reactions in Baku, Tbilisi, and Western capitals, before they were softened to both domestic and international audiences by the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office. Public support for Georgia’s Euroatlantic integration has not diminished; it has actually increased after elections, rising to a historical maximum of over 80 percent. A shift of Georgia’s foreign policy in the opposite direction would hence be detrimental to the governing Georgian Dream coalition, and this is reassuring to international partners, who would nevertheless prefer to see more clarity and coherence in statements and policies. A possible future comprehensive cohabitation agreement could give more credibility to Georgia’s strategic orientation. Similarly, an official declaration by the Parliament of Georgia’s Strategic Orientation would address some of the concerns of international partners. Absent these, Georgia’s commitment to current and future strategic projects continues to be seen as uncertain. Azerbaijan is a major pillar of all strategic projects in the region involving Black Sea-Caspian Sea transportation corridors, energy, and trade. The country’s relationship with Georgia has recently come under stress from some of the statements of the Georgian prime minister, but the two Ministries of Foreign affairs handled the situation well and cleared the air. Relations with Armenia, however, are only getting more tense. Following exchanges of fire at the demarcation line and in remote places along the border, Armenia forced changes in Nagorno-Karabach. As in the past, these events were connected to U.S. and Western visits to Baku and to events in the negotiations in Nagorno-Karabakh, and were used to bring attention to the conflict and to the stagnation of resolution process. They usually had little impact in Armenia, yet this time they occurred shortly before presidential elections and have been used electorally.
In fact, the Minsk Group was absent from the resolution dialog throughout the last year, and the process unfolded in an informal 1+2 format, with Russia taking the burden of the negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents. This initiative, aimed at enhancing Russia’s regional authority, did not produce any positive outcome. On the contrary, Baku felt isolated this way, where solutions against Azerbaijan’s interests occasionally found their way into the discussions, only to erode the process further. The decision by Armenian authorities to open an airport in Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh and charter YerevanStepanakert flights increases tension. Considering that Kojali, the current location of the airport, is historically and symbolically important to Azerbaijan as a place of resistance during the war in Nagorno-Karabach, an angry reaction by the Azerbaijani authorities is to be feared. They have already stated their intent to use all necessary means to ensure respect for the international rules related to aircraft traffic in the region. The Chicago Convention offers Baku the grounds to block any transport to Kojali Airport and even to force down any plane that would not observe international rules. This is a real concern for the possible escalation of the Armenian-Azeri conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh or elsewhere, a situation that could put strategic projects involving Azerbaijan at risk. Since Armenia feels isolated, and now that elections are out of the way, it might decide to try and break its unofficial semi-blockade. Turkey is a major player in the East-West Corridor, transportation, and energy projects. It makes for a stable actor, yet it is deeply affected by the Syrian internal war, which makes Ankara more concerned about issues in its south than on developments of projects in the Caucasus. Perhaps the most important challenge, which comes with an important risk of escalation, is the commemoration of the 1915 events. Well advertised by the Armenian Diaspora, this could fuel harsh exchanges between Yerevan and Ankara, and, most importantly, it could affect Turkish interests in other capitals where condemnation of events of 100 years ago may occur. Albeit smaller in numbers than its Turkish counterpart, the Armenian Diaspora proved better organized and was able to reach to the U.S. Congress and to the Parliaments of some key European states in order to obtain political declarations that harm Turkey. This could potentially affect all projects launched in the region, and, if
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tensions rise, this could spill over into EU-Turkish and U.S.Turkish relations. In 2014, the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi may be used as an occasion by the Circassian minority in Russia, of Turkish ancestry, to commemorate its decimation about 150 years ago in what was called the first genocide of the Modern Era in Russia. The lack of responsiveness of Russian authorities to the requests of the Circassian minority in Northern Caucasus and the pressure of its members trying to come from Syria to Russia could trigger acts of violence meant to attract attention to their problems and claims. Since Georgia has recognized the Circassian genocide and the new authorities in Tbilisi have reaffirmed this position, differences of views and possible terrorist attacks on the Olympic Games may introduce a new matter of concern for the East-West Black Sea-Caspian Sea Corridor. Securing the Project: The Political Support Given the state of affairs and upcoming events, the risk of different symbolic injuries may threaten the desire and ability of countries in the region to engage in the East-West corridor. This project is in the hands of the politicians of the region. The manifest interest of the EU and the United States in the corridor would ensure enthusiastic participation of some of the local actors and may help alleviate suspicions. Finalization of regional economic projects (such as the Baku-Kars railway) would also act as a catalyst, although these economic projects are themselves vulnerable to political and security threats. A good, solid start to the project would be a common declaration by the presidents involved that would give both an important signal for the political support of the project and the impetus to concrete economic projects that would consequently give it substance. The signature of the representatives of the countries directly involved – Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and possibly Kazakhstan and Turkey – would give guarantees that the project will move on to more concrete stages, in transportation, trade, energy, etc. The success of the project needs the involvement of Western countries as well. The stated interest of the United States and the EU in the development of the project would trigger interest both within the region, and in the U.S. and European business communities. Political will within the EU for
strategic relations with Central Asia would also help ensure their interest and participation in the project. Should the actors mentioned above fail to show their interest, it will translate into missed economic opportunities and increased regional insecurity. This will have an impact on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and will ultimately affect the success of the New Silk Road strategy. The two projects complement each other, together completing the historical Silk Road, and, just as in the past, possibly again bringing economic and cultural development all along its path.
About the Author
Iulian Chifu is a professor of conflict analysis and decision making in crisis specialized in the post-Soviet space at the National School of Political and Administrative Sciences in Bucharest. He founded and chaired the Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Center in 2002. Since 2011, he has been the presidential counselor for Strategic Affairs and International Security.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Tunis. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.
About the On Wider Europe Series
This series is designed to focus in on key intellectual and policy debates regarding Western policy toward Wider Europe that otherwise might receive insufficient attention. The views presented in these papers are the personal views of the authors and not those of the institutions they represent or The German Marshall Fund of the United States.
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