Date: 14 May 2024  Author: Rainhard Kloucek, President of Paneuropa Movement Austria

Facing the new challanges

Originally just a platform to improve the infrastructure in the region and bring it to a European level, the Three Seas Initiative is increasingly developing into a political platform, that also deals with the security policy challenges and threats, posed by the Russian war of annihilation against Ukraine. This should provide further impetus for the development of a foreign policy and security policy dimension of the European Union.


In his invitation-video to this year’s „Three Seas Initiative Summit“ in Vilnius, Lithuanian president Gitanas Nauséda said: „After Russia launched its unprovoked and unlawful war against Ukraine, the geopolitical importance of intensified cooperation and better connectivity in the north-south axis corridor has increased dramatically.“ And he added: „The Three Seas Initiative serves as a political platform to facilitate this cooperation to build stronger connections …“ When he was saying that he was also talking about „military mobility“.

However, the development from an initiative to improve infrastructure, especially in transport, to a political platform, was already foreseeable before the summit on April 11, 2024 in Vilnius. And it was there even before Russia’s war of annihilation against Ukraine began. It was already stated in 2019 that the Initiative wanted to reduce dependence on Russian oil and natural gas in order to increase energy security in the region. Not all countries in the Three Seas Initiative – Austria is an example – wanted to recognize the importance of this goal at the time.

But Austria is just one example of the weakness of those countries in the European Union that have had no, or only very brief, experience with Russian occupation. They continue to rely on a policy that can be briefly described with the German slogan „Wandel durch Handel“ (“Change through trade”). It describes the hope that through good trade relations with Moscow, democracy will also prevail in the Russian Empire. The development of a genuine European foreign and security policy was not a priority. In security policy, Europe relied on the USA and NATO. The peace dividend could be used to finance new social programs and thus further cultivate the illusion of eternal peace.

Politicians and citizens neither wanted to hear the wake-up call of Slobodan Milosevic’s wars in the former Yugoslavia nor believed warnings of re-Sovietization under Vladimir Putin. His statement that the end of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century was perceived as nostalgia from a former KGB agent. Even after Moscow’s attack on Georgia in 2008 and after the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas in 2014, business relations with Russia were expanded. Some Western European countries have become dangerously dependent, particularly when it comes to gas.

It was probably the experience of Moscow’s rule that led to the realization in the Central European countries that were able to join the European Union in 2004, that infrastructure does not just mean the construction of roads and railways, but also means energy infrastructure and security structures.

In the Three Seas Initiative, it was also the countries in the immediate neighbourhood of Russia, that were increasingly setting political and geopolitical accents in the initiative. In some countries there was certainly a sense of nationalism, which encouraged the ambition to play a more important role as a nation state. There were also concerns among observers, that the Three Seas Initiative, like the Visegrad Group, could be used by some states as an anti-EU format. However, the de facto end of the Visegrad Group has shown that such a policy is not productive because the challenges Europe is facing cannot be solved through a new nationalism.

The „Joint Declaration at the Ninth Summit of the Three Seas Initiative“ is very clear on this issue: regional cooperation right up to the important security policy challenges, but definitely within the European Union.

It is clear that money from the European Union is still needed to expand the infrastructure. There is also significantly more money in the EU funds for infrastructure than in the Three Seas Initiative funds. This will remain the case in the future when new funds are set up. Even though there is a new strategic partner in the initiative, Japan, the money will continue to come primarily from the strategic partner – European Commission.

The inclusion of Japan as a strategic partner clearly shows the geopolitical objectives of the initiative. Japan faces similar security challenges as Europe (and the closer a European country is to Russia, the more direct the threat). Russia still occupies Japanese territory. Totalitarian North Korea is a threat to the entire region and is in close cooperation with Moscow. Added to this is China’s expansive policy, which sees Russia only as a junior partner, but still tries to change the world order according to its own totalitarian ideas.

The status of Ukraine and Moldova as participating states already sent a clear security policy signal. Both states are partially occupied by Russian troops. The war is hot in Ukraine, and it could get hot in Moldova if Moscow cannot be defeated in Ukraine. Here the wording in the Joint Declaration is also very clear:

„We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine, its sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. We reiterate that Russia must immediately and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders and encourage to establish a future compensation mechanism for all the destruction and injuries caused.“

Sanctions against Russia must be strengthened and a strategy for the reconstruction of Ukraine is needed. The initiative wants to become more involved as a platform here.

The “geostrategic importance” of 3SI for the development of strategic interests is already addressed beforehand in the Joint Declaration. This strategic interest is complemented by a clear commitment to the enlargement policy of the European Union. The countries of the Western Balkans are addressed just as directly as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Armenia could have been included here. The country in the Caucasus is increasingly beginning to move away from cooperation with Moscow and moving towards the EU and NATO. The future relationship between Europe and Russia will be decided in this Black Sea and Caucasus region. It will be the border between despotism (Russia) and democracy, free market economy and the rule of law.

With the statements on geostrategy in the Joint Declaration, the Three Seas Initiative is providing impetus for the development of a foreign and security policy dimension for the European Union.

Sources:

Joint declaration Vilnius: https://media.voog.com/0000/0046/4166/files/Declaration.pdf

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