Archive for October 22nd, 2011

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Black Sea Economic Cooperation – The Next Chess Piece?

October 22, 2011

For those of you who have never heard of the Organisation of BSEC (Black Sea Economic Cooperation), it is hardly surprising unless you live next to the Black Sea like I do.

The BSEC is a forum of 11 nations consisting of consisting of Albania, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.  Formed in 1992 its purpose was to foster interaction and harmony among the Member States, as well as to ensure peace, stability and prosperity encouraging friendly and good neighbourly relations in the Black Sea region.

Jolly good, but what has that got to do with anything?  How abstract can I be and what has it got to do with chess?

The answer is geopolitics and the rapid movement of chess pieces surrounding Ukraine now that the EU has hit the hurdle of European sensibilities in relation to the Association Agreement with Ukraine.

The major players notwithstanding the EU in the Ukrainian neighbourhood are Russia and Turkey.

A few days ago as predicted here, Ukraine signed a Free Trade Agreement with the CIS nations in St Petersburg.  Turkey, via the deft and skillful hand of Mr Ahmet Davutoglu (a very under-rated but exceptionally wily foreign minister) have been pushing Ukraine for a similar free trade agreement for more than a year and will undoubtedly succeed.  Parity in Visa processes for Turkish citizens to Ukraine is already in place.

Now let us look at the list of nations in this organisation again.  Of the 11 nations only 3 are EU Member States.  Those 3 nations happen to arguably be the weakest in terms of rule of law, corruption and transparency.  All 3 are also not exactly  feeling a lot of love from their EU compatriots at present for various reasons despite the Black Sea being of geopolitical and strategic importance.

We then have Turkey and Ukraine, two nations which the EU really doesn’t want as Member States but can’t really afford not to be on exceptionally good terms with either.  Neither Turkey or Ukraine are likely to want to remain second cousins  via Association Agreements or EaP or SaP parameters no matter how much the EU would like to keep them close but outside the club.

Turkey is already noticeably turning its back on the EU and making the most of the North African upheaval.

Within a few days of the EU canceling the Ukrainian President’s trip to Brussels, Ukraine had signed a FTA with the CIS States and will undoubtedly now look far more closely at the Eurasian Union that Russia proposes, a move that would immediately save it $9 billion each year in gas prices alone.  That is a lot of money when you have the credit raising ability of a chicken tikka masala on the international markets.

The chances of Georgia, Moldova and others getting Association Agreements with the EU should it not happen with Ukraine are exceptionally bleak both for geographical and reasons of political will on the EU side.  Both Georgia and Moldova have issues of territorial  ambiguity with Russian troops sat in disputed areas just as an example.

Back in August I commented upon the then theories flying around the media of a two-tier EU.  The core and periphery if you will.  I stated that a third tier should be considered that almost exactly mirrors the BSEC when it comes to the problem children of Greece, Romania and Bulgaria and would allow for Turkish, Moldovan and Ukrainian enlargement in Tier 3.  Several of the EU EaP target nations could also be included that are also in the BSEC.

There would be technicalities relating to free movement, economic governance etc, but the tiers could be ring-fenced.

This will of course not happen.

What will happen is that Russia (possibly with the assistance of an increasingly important Turkey) will now move to make the BSEC a far more vocal and preeminent geopolitical entity and will go out of its way to support and engage with all the members of the organisation to make it so.  In doing so of course, the EU will lose influence over many prospective EaP and SaP nations possibly with dire results relating to immigration, economics, international organised crime and security to name but a few areas.

A more robust alliance between Russia and Turkey geopolitically would undoubtedly make the BSEC an organisation of significants on the EU doorstep and it would be an organisation built upon an undercurrent of dislike for the EU.  Almost all commentators seem to be adhering to the EU’s sense of self-aggrandisement and importance to Ukraine as if there is no other option for it.

In Russia, Turkey and their areas of growing geopolitical influence and partnerships, Ukraine has options make no mistake.

The BSEC is something to keep an eye on, quite possibly a chess piece soon to be maneuvered in the game.

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