Representatives of the eleven member countries of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) group met in Moscow on October 25. Founded in 1992, the group includes Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. Representatives of Austria, Egypt, Israel, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Tunisia were also present as observers. The Summit’s final declaration called for the transformation of the grouping into a more structured organization and for promotion of joint economic projects. The group also confirmed an agreement reached last July on the formation of a regional development bank with capital of $1.5 billion. It is to begin its work next year. (UPI, October 25)
Russian prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, standing in for Boris Yeltsin, emphasized the importance that Moscow attaches to trade with the BSEC countries and the desirability of establishing a free trade zone in the region. Foreign Minister Evgeny Primakov attributed to the BSEC a role in the building of a new security system in Europe and called for cooperation between the BSEC and the OSCE, as well as for the establishment of relations between the BSEC and other international organizations. (Itar-Tass, October 25) Moscow’s aspiration to strengthen the profile of the BSEC appears to be part of an effort to create regional structures with more of an Eastern orientation in which Russia can attain relative predominance.
Such intentions aside, however, the enduring importance of bilateral ties and the continued existence of conflicts of interest were manifested in the contacts and declarations that accompanied the summit. Chernomyrdin, for example, met separately with representatives of Ukraine, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania to discuss a number of bilateral issues. (Interfax, October 25) Meanwhile, Turkey — the country that will occupy the group’s rotational presidency after Russia — has emerged as a serious rival to Moscow in the race to exert influence in the region. Turkish president Suleiman Demirel declared that no changes are envisaged in the restricted use of the Turkish Straits as a transit way for Russian oil exports, a position to which Moscow has long objected. But Russia joined with Bulgaria and Greece at the summit in supporting the completion of an oil pipeline from Burgas, in Bulgaria, to Alexandroupolis, in Greece. It would allow oil exports from the Russian port of Novorossiisk to reach the Mediterranean, bypassing the straits (Itar-Tass, October 25)
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