The New Geopolitical Order in The BSEC Region



The term “geopolitics”, which addresses the world political map and the geographical factors as inputs for policy planning, is not new but can be traced back to ancient times. During the late 19th and 20th centuries, geopolitics gained importance and became the primary factor for the determination of balance of powers in world politics. Since the phenomenon of globalization came into our lives and changed our conceptualization of the world, nation state and attributes of national power, we need a new definition of geopolitics. The end of the Cold War has allowed the emergence of a new geopolitical order dominated by geo-economic questions and issues, a world where the globalization of economic activity and global flows of trade, investment, commodities and images are re-making states, sovereignty and the geographical structure of the planet. (1)

According to this new geopolitical order, “the wider Black Sea region” has moved from the periphery to the center of the attention of world politics. The term “the wider Black Sea region” widely refers to a vast region stretching from southeastern Europe into western shores of Caspian Sea. By this definition, the Black Sea area (consisting of only six littoral states) is linked with the wider geographical areas of the Caucasus, the Caspian and the Balkan because of the geo-strategic, economic and socio-political reasons. (2) The region’s geo-strategic position as a natural link between Europe and Asia and between Central Asia and the Middle East, constitutes a vital trade link as well as an important transit route for energy. (3)

In fact, this region is not a stranger to world politics. The oil fields of Baku (Azerbaijan) had global importance from the last decades of the nineteenth century until the middle of the twentieth century. Owing to the wealth and geopolitical value of the South Caucasus, it was a highly sought -after goal during World War I and World War II. (4) During the Cold War, the littoral states were grouped into two confronting military-political camps with Turkey being the only pro - western country. Divided by ideological fault lines, there was no possibility for regional cooperation in the Black Sea. Since the oil resources of the Caucasus were thought to be exhausted during 1970’s and 80’s, this region attracted no interest from abroad.

After the dissolution of USSR, with the emergence of the newly independent states at the shores of the Black Sea, this region was rediscovered by Western powers. With the discovery of rich hydrocarbon resources in the Caspian Sea basin, the geopolitical importance of the wider Black Sea region, as a transportation corridor for oil and gas from Central Asia to markets and because of its reserves, (5) has increased. Many analysts consider the Black Sea and the Caspian region as the third source of oil and gas in the world after the Persian Gulf and the Western Siberia. (6) Dynamics of the globalization increased the attractiveness of this region for foreign investors especially in energy sector.

The end of Cold War has opened up the potential of this region but also revived the historical ethnic, national and territorial conflicts in this region. Regional conflicts in Balkans, in Moldova (Transdniester), in Caucasus (Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), between Azerbaijan and Armenia (Nagorno – Karabakh) and Chechnya) create instability; undermine security, economical development and regional cooperation in the region. These conflicts remain frozen but they increase the tempting characteristic of the Black Sea for terrorists, traffickers in weapons and people, drug smugglers. The terrorist attacks of 9-11 and 3-11, that have underscored the new security threats, reinforced the strategic importance of the wider Black Sea region for the Western countries.

Because of its inclination to instability and its role as a energy corridor, the new “Great Game” played in the wider Black sea region has many players, such as littoral states of Black Sea as “local players”, USA, EU, China and Iran as influential “external players”, BSEC, GUAM-Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, Black Sea Forum as “regional intergovernmental players” , Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), United Nations(UN), NATO, Council of Europe as “global intergovernmental players”, various non-governmental organizations and multinational companies.

All of the active participants of this “New Great Game” has its own strategic political and economical interests and priorities. In order to harmonize the conflicting interests of the regional states and to promote cooperation for regional security and stability, regionalization trends emerged in wider Black Sea region shortly after the Cold War. In an interdependent world, regional cooperation has been seen as an important means of securing stability, dealing with problems of economic transition and promoting closer ties with other existing European economic and security structures. (7)

Although there are other intiatives at the regional level, the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), which was founded in 1992 is the first intergovernmental organisation that has been created with an objective of development of economic cooperation among participating states as a key factor for the progress and well-being of their peoples. The twelve states which are members of BSEC– Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Serbia the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine- covers the area of wider Black Sea region. BSEC as an initiative of Turkey, came into existence as a unique and promising model of multilateral political and economic initiative aimed at fostering 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. (8)

BSEC covers an area of nearly 20 million square kilometers, represents a region of some 350 million people with a foreign trade capacity of over USD 300 billion annually and it is becoming Europe's major transport and energy transfer corridor. BSEC is distinguised from other initiatives in the region because it has built a permanent and extensive institutional framework for cooperation that covers all levels of governance (intergovernmental, parliamentary, corporate and financial). (9) BSEC has prefered a project based approach mostly in the area of economic cooperation.

Although BSEC, has developed into a regional economic organisation with a broad and comprehensive institutional basis especially after the BSEC Charter was signed in 1998, often receives criticism about its lack of effectiveness and efficiency. The main reasons are the heterogeneity of the twelve member states in terms of size, economic development, security concerns and foreign policy priorities . (10) Also we must keep in mind that most of the member states are newly independent states and not ready to give up their sovereignty rights to a supranational authority as in the case of EU.

It is believed that although BSEC may not deal directly with purely political issues, the nature of economic cooperation itself is likely to create a framework conducive to more stability and security. Its members share a common vision of their regional cooperation as ”a part of the integration process in Europe, based on human rights and fundemental freedoms, prosperity through economic liberty, social justice and equal security and stability, which is open for interaction with other countries, regional initiatives and international organisations and financial institutions”. (11)

EU has been attentive to this region. As it was highlighted in the “Green Paper” in 2006, “the import dependency of Europe is rising and in the next 20-30 years around 70% of the Union’s energy requirements, compared to 50% today will be met by imported products- some from regions threatened by insecurity.” Since the largest oil and gas reserves are situated in politically or economically insecure regions such as Middle East, it becomes imperative for EU and other energy importing countries to pay greater attention to the wider Black Sea region, which is due to its geographical location as a natural route between two major oil and gas supply regions –Russia and the Central Asia and large markets like Turkey, Europe and Mediterranean. (13)

The demand for energy is rising and will continue to rise in the foreseeable future. According to the International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2006 Report, world primary energy demand is projected to increase almost 50% between 2006 and 2030- an average annual rate of 1.6%. Globally, Fosil fuels will dominate the source of energy to 2030. They account for 83% of the overall increase in energy demand between 2004 and 2030. (14)

Current Russian and Caspian oil export shipped via Turkish Straits, which is the opening door of the Black Sea region to the outside world, total nearly 150 million ton per year. To bypass the overcrowded Bosphorus, various large scale projects were developed. BTC pipeline (Baku- Tbilisi-Ceyhan) which was built to facilitate exporting crude from the Caspian region without using the Bosphorus, will be capable of transporting 50 million ton of crude when fully operational. Other oil pipe line projects, which aim to bypass the Bosphorus, such as Samsun-Ceyhan, Burgas-Alexandroupolis, TransBalkan are competing with each other because oil production in Central Asia and Caspian region is planned to increase. The largest expansion of transit volumes would come from the expansion of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) oil pipeline which carries the oil production from the Tengiz field in Kazakhstan to the Black Sea port of Novorossiik (rise from 643.000 to 1.35 million b/d until 2015).

Natural gas, which has become an invaluable source of energy to generate electricity, coming from Russian and landlocked Central Asian fields is also traded through Black Sea region. At present almost all westward pipeline connections from Central Asia run through Russia. Gazprom (15) exported 156, 1 billion m3 of Russian gas to Europe in 2005 and the key export mains linking gas fields in West Siberia with export destinations in Western Europe traverse Ukraine. (16 )Some 90% of Russia’s gas exports flow through Ukraine. The Blue Stream project supplies gas directly to Turkey across the Black Sea. The pipeline puts through up to 16 billion m3 a year. (17) There is also the western pipeline which goes through Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria to both Greece and Turkey. The system has capacity of 10.5 billion m3 a year.  (18) There are several large pipeline projects from Central Asia to European markets which aim to bypass Russia such as Nabucco, Trans- Caspian and South Caucasus Pipeline projects.

As it is stated in the “Green Paper”, EU dependency to energy resources coming from Russia is increasing. Russia is already the origin of around 25% of oil and gas consumed in the EU and is currently seen to be leveraging energy related power in the region for political and strategic capability in an effort to dominate the market. Since EU wants to secure and diversify its energy resources, the first EU funded regional programme concentrated energy infrastructure in wider Black Sea region was the INOGATE programme which was launched in 1995. (19) The EU Commission, under its SYNERGY program, also initiated the establishment of the Black Sea Regional Energy Center (BSREC) in 1995. (20) After 2004, “the Baku Initiative” establishes the basis of the policy dialogue on energy cooperation between EU and the littoral states of the Black Sea, Caspian Sea and their neighbors. (21)

But until now EU has favoured bilateral relations with the regional states through the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) as opposed to a regional approach. The latest round of enlargement which made the EU a Black Sea littoral power, raised questions for both the EU and regional countries about how to proceed with their relations.

BSEC countries, being conscious of the crucial role the energy plays in sustainable development of the Member states and the region as a whole and taking into account the significance of energy in further developing the cooperation and integration in the Black Sea region and with the outside powers, started to work on energy issues more closely starting with Baku Declaration in 2003. This process has evolved with Alexandroupolis Declaration in 2005 and finally reached to “Plan of Action of the BSEC Working Group on Energy for 2005-2007. (22)

2007 is the 15th Anniversary of the establishment of the BSEC and Turkish Chairmanship will start in May 2007. Since the process of Euro-Atlantic integration and EU enlargement will have significant implications for the region and BSEC, Turkey has announced its intention to reinvigorate the BSEC under the Turkish leadership and acquired Russia’s support. (23)

Taking this opportunity, there can be fundamental changes in the Organisation in terms of its future orientation, agenda and policy making. For now, BSEC tries to operate in different fields such as trade, energy, transportation, cross border cooperation, environment, good governance combating organised crime, agriculture, heathcare, education and many others. As new regional initiatives emerge in the Black Sea, member states need to reaffirm the core business of the BSEC and its main purpose of existence. In order to adapt itself to the new enviroment that evolves in Europe, BSEC must certainly to set “energy” on top of its core activities.

Energy, if it is used wisely, may be a factor of cooperation, but on the other hand it may also become a divisive factor as it is today. By looking at the recent political disputes between the member states of BSEC over the energy price and transportation problems, we can easily see that. All these problems are capable of effecting the stability of the region and hinder the possibility of regional cooperation. In fact, this is a not a zero-sum game where a gain by one actor does correspond with a loss by another. Rather it might be a positive sum game which creates benefits for all the actors. The other parameter is that, the producing and importing countries are not the only actors of this game. Non-state actors, like intergovernmental actors, NGO’s, multinational companies have also important roles. By strenghtening of cooperation in the transportation of energy resources across the BSEC region and through BSEC region to other destinations is necessary for all the actors. Since we are able to detect that in the foreseeable future, the stability of the wider Black Sea region will depend very much on cooperation energy, we may understand the urgent need for an Energy Security Strategy in the Black Sea region.

* Director of Black Sea –Caucasus Research Center and Instructor in Bahçeşehir University.

(1) Gearoid O. Tuathail, “Thinking Critically About Geopolitics”, The Geopolitics Reader, New York, Routhledge, 1998, p.2

(2) Mustafa Aydın, “Regional Cooperation in the Black Sea and the Role of Institutions”, Perceptions, Autumn 2005, p:60

(3) Erhan Büyükakıncı, “Security Issues and Patterns of Cooperation in the Black Sea Region”, paper presented at the 3rd BSARG (the Black Sea Research Group) Meeting, “GUUAM-Myth or Reality in the Aspect of the Black Sea Regional Security”, 20 June 2001, Simferepol

(4) Revaz Gachechiladze, “Geopolitics in the South Caucasus: Local and External Players”, Gepolitics, Vol.7, No:1 (summer 2002), p.113

(5) It is Azerbaijan who has significant oil and gas reserves in this region. The other countries has special geopolitical importance because they are on the transit routes of energy sources from Centrall Asia to the West. Russia’s oil and gas reserves are mostly located in Western Siberia.

(6) Paper presented by Erhan Büyükakıncı, titled “Security Issues and Patterns of Cooperation in the Black Sea Region”, at the 3rd BSARG (the Black Sea Research Group) Meeting, “GUUAM-Myth or Reality in the Aspect of the Black Sea Regional Security”, 20 June 2001, Simferepol

(7) Sergiu Celac and Panagiota Manoli, “Towards a New Model of Comprehensive Regionalism in the Black Sea Area”, Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol.6, No.2, June 2006, p.193

(8) BSEC Official Web site

(9) Panagiota Manoli, “Reflecting on the BSEC: Achievements, Limitations and the Way Forward”, International Centre for Black Sea Studies (ICBSS), Policy Brief #1, July 2006, p.1

(10) Ibid, p.3

(11) Ibid, p.5

(12) “Green Paper- A European strategy for sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy”, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels, 8.3.2006

(13) Aydın Özü, “The Black Sea as an Energy Transit Corridor”, Turkish Policy Quarterly, Summer 2006, p.134

(14) World Energy Outlook 2006, International Energy Agency <>

(15) Gazexport is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gazprom. Gazprom is the world largest gas company where Russian State holds 38% directly and 16.6% indirectly of the shares.

(16) Gazprom web site

(17) Ibid

(18) Aydın Özü, “The Black Sea as an Energy Transit Corridor”, Turkish Policy Quarterly, Summer 2006, p.137

(19) The INOGATE Programme, stands for Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe. INOGATE is an international co-operation programme aiming at promoting the regional integration of the pipeline systems and facilitating the transport of oil and gas both within the greater NIS region and towards the export markets of Europe, while at the same time acting as a catalyst for attracting private investors and international financial institutions to these pipeline project.

(20) BSREC, based in Sofia, aims at developing cooperation between Black Sea region countries and the EU in the energy field as well as among the countries themselves.

(21) The aim of the Baku Initiative is enhancing integration of the energy markets of participating countries with the EU energy market to create predictable and transparent energy markets, capable of stimulating investments as well as security of energy supply.

(22) See, Baku and Alexandroupolis Declarations and Plan of Action at BSEC official web page,

(23) Suat Kınıklıoğlu, “Turkey and Russia: Partnership by Exclusion?”, Turkish Policy Quarterly, Summer 2006, p.40