09:02 GMT +322 July 2019
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    Russia has high hopes for Black Sea forum

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    MOSCOW. (Alla Yazkova for RIA Novosti) - On June 25, Istanbul will host a summit of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) timed to coincide with its 15th anniversary.

    In the run-up to the summit, Moscow believes that the BSEC has good prospects and is ready to promote regional projects.

    The BSEC, which brings together 12 countries, namely, Albania, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine, is larger in area than the European Union.

    Various BSEC institutions and the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank have been established in the last 15 years. Regional leaders have gathered for several summits, and other national officials also hold regular consultations.

    However, BSEC countries should more actively implement joint energy, transport and environmental projects, and they should also expand cooperation with international and European organizations, primarily the EU.

    Different geoeconomic and geopolitical interests are now manifested in the Black Sea region.

    In 1990, Turkish President Turgut Ozal became the first regional leader to propose closer cooperation between Black Sea littoral states. Ozal's proposal was primarily addressed to the Soviet Union, Romania and Bulgaria, members of the Moscow-controlled Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) and the Warsaw Pact military bloc.

    But the regional situation has changed completely since the early 1990s. Some BSEC countries are members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, an international organization uniting former Soviet republics, whereas other littoral states have either joined the EU and/or NATO or are waiting to be admitted.

    The Black Sea region has expanded, spreading to the Balkan Peninsula and the South Caucasus and receiving the status of the Greater Black Sear Region.

    Events of the last 15 years, including the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, have changed many global geopolitical realities and turned the Greater Black Sea Region into a major center of European and global politics.

    The United States views this region as a "strategic corridor" providing access to the crisis-ridden Middle East and South-West Asia, as well as to the Caspian region with its rich hydrocarbon deposits.

    The EU has strengthened its regional position by admitting Romania and Bulgaria, and has spread the new European neighborhood policy to the South Caucasus and the Balkans. Moscow also wants to strengthen its regional positions.

    Russia and Turkey, which hope to restore their previous level in many spheres of regional cooperation, are quite worried about the appearance of U.S. naval bases near Constanta, Romania, and Burgas, Bulgaria, as a result of bilateral agreements.

    Turkey is the depositary of the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Turkish Straits, which has guaranteed regional stability for many decades. However, Ankara believes that U.S. actions could lead to renewed discussions on revising the Montreux agreement's clause limiting the length of time foreign warships can stay in the Black Sea.

    Neither Russia nor Turkey, which is pursuing an increasingly independent foreign policy, wants the overall balance of forces to change.

    Ever since Caspian hydrocarbon deposits were opened to the outside world, the great powers have been struggling to control local oil and gas production and transportation. Apart from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan trunk oil pipeline, several other alternative pipelines are being contemplated in order to reduce tanker traffic via the Bosporus and the Dardanelles.

    In the spring of 2007, Russia, Bulgaria and Greece signed an agreement on building an oil pipeline that would link Burgas in Bulgaria with Alexandroupolis in Greece. It would then be possible to pump oil from Russia and Kazakhstan to Mediterranean terminals.

    BSEC countries, which are continuing to expand mutual economic cooperation, approved several joint regional transport and energy infrastructure projects during Russia's presidency of the organization, which lasted from May to October 2006. Russia is quite interested in implementing these projects.

    In April 2007, BSEC foreign ministers negotiated in Belgrade and signed a memorandum on building a 7,250km belt highway through littoral countries. The highway, which will eventually link northern, western, eastern and south-eastern Europe, has to be built from scratch because only a few of its sections can be upgraded.

    BSEC countries also plan to help create other international transport corridors, merge national power grids into a regional power market, restore regular passenger traffic between Black Sea ports and expand regional ties in tourism.

    Considering all the factors influencing the Greater Black Sea Region, the EU and Russia, it appears that complicated regional problems cannot be solved unless the three parties cooperate. This issue will be discussed at the Istanbul summit.

    Dr. Alla Yazkova is the head of the Center for Mediterranean and Black Sea Studies, Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences.

    The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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