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    Russian policy in the Black Sea region

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    MOSCOW. (An article by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko published in the daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta, August 17, 2005.)

    The role of the Black Sea region in international politics and the global economy is constantly growing due to its strategic location and economic potential. At the same time, the countries in the region are themselves coming to a deeper understanding of the potential advantages of joint business initiatives and the need for broad economic integration and large-scale projects, including infrastructure, transport and environmental projects.

    The region has long been of particular geopolitical importance for Russia. It is a zone of Russian strategic interest. Russia is pursuing a consistent policy to transform the region into a zone of peace, stability and good neighborliness, and is confident that this policy is in the interests of all the Black Sea countries.

    These goals can be achieved, in part, through the effective operation of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). Russia was directly involved in setting up this regional economic organization. The other founding states are Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine. Serbia and Montenegro joined the BSEC later on.

    The main objectives, areas of cooperation and mechanisms of the BSEC are set out in the Istanbul Declaration, which was signed by heads of state and government in 1992. The Charter was signed in 1998 and entered into force in May 1999, and since that time the BSEC is functioning as a full-fledged international organization. The zone covered by the BSEC, i.e. the territory of all its member states, is nearly 20 million square kilometers. The total population of the BSEC member states is over 340 million and their aggregate GDP is about $1.3 trillion.

    The BSEC has 15 working groups, the most active of which are those on transport, energy, on combating organized crime and emergency assistance.

    Russia considers the BSEC to be a unique organization for promoting economic cooperation and stability in the Black Sea region. It intends to take the necessary measures to consolidate the organization's activities and believes that the clear and resolute political desire of its member states to make the BSEC more effective should be translated into consistent implementation of its decisions and the adoption of new initiatives. The member states should be addressing specific issues that are of direct relevance to the people and economies of the region.

    By working together with other international organizations, the BSEC could play a more significant role in resolving problems that have a direct impact on the region's economic development, political climate and confidence-building measures.

    Each member of the BSEC has its own priorities. Russia's priority is accelerated economic and social development of its Black Sea regions (the Krasnodar and Stavropol territories and the Rostov region). Therefore Russia is keen to promote economic ties between its Black Sea regions and the regions of other BSEC member states.

    Regional cooperation should be enhanced by the agreements that are reached at ministerial meetings. Various initiatives are put forward at these meetings, which are held fairly regularly.

    Initiatives advanced by Russia, which are in the interests of all BSEC member states, include bringing forward plans to harmonize the energy systems of eastern and western European countries, the creation of a Black Sea electricity ring, and the establishment of regular passenger ferry crossings between the Black Sea ports. Russia supports the concept of the coordinated development of highways around the Black Sea and the promotion of waterways, including internal waterways. The country is interested in proposals on cooperation to develop the regional transport infrastructure and link it to European and Asian transport arteries.

    These and several other proposals were discussed in detail at ministerial meetings held in the past few months (ministers for transport, energy, home affairs, justice, state administration and tourism). It was clear from the discussions that the member states want to focus on practical aspects of regional ties. Evidently, the task now is to agree on a system for monitoring the implementation of decisions made at such ministerial meetings. Such a mechanism will be crucial to increasing the organization's effectiveness. Russia plans to submit proposals on this matter in the near future.

    Russia is particularly interested in projects promoting internal reforms and the economic integration of the countries in the region into an international labor division system. The first steps toward this goal have been made in the BSEC Project Development Fund, a division of the organization that was established in 2002, and which Russia believes has great potential.

    The financial pillar of the BSEC is the Black Sea Trade & Development Bank, which was established in 1999 in the Greek city of Thessaloniki. The bank has financed about 60 projects, of which over a dozen are being implemented in Russia. Important projects in the south of Russia include projects to support small and medium-sized enterprises and to construct cargo terminals in Novorossiisk.

    Russia, Greece and Turkey are the biggest shareholders in the bank. This gives Russia the right to permanent representation on its board of directors. Since the establishment of the bank, a Russian representative has held the post of vice president, and it was decided by the board at the end of July, following lobbying by Russian diplomats, that in 2010-2014 the presidency would pass to Russia.

    It will of course benefit Russia to have a Russian representative as chairman of a respected international financial structure. This will confirm the growing weight of Russia in the international financial community and the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation. It will also create a favorable background for our country when the BSEC presidency passes to Russia in May-October 2006.