Center for Strategic Decision Research

Paris '07 Workshop

The Black Sea Region and the Balkans:  a Russian View

Lt Gen Evgeniy Buzhinskiy

Lt. General Evgeniy Buzhinsky
Ministry of Defense
of the Russian Federation

Lieutenant General Evgeniy Buzhinsky, Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, in front of the Dome of the Hotel National des Invalides.

"Should there be a worst-case scenario in the Middle East, the Black Sea region could make an essential
contribution to European energy security. At the same time, its energy potential is a challenge...
its infrastructure is highly attractive to terrorists of various kinds and
cannot absolutely be protected against current threats."

The topic of the Balkans and the Black Sea region is of special importance to Russia, especially in the context of challenges and threats. I would like to begin talking about the topic by discussing the problems of the Black Sea region.


          Lately politicians speak more about the expanded Black Sea region, including not only the coastal states but also Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Greece, and, as some say, the United States. We in Russia believe that this region is not some gray zone in the center of Europe, the Eurasian continent, or the expanded Middle East, but an area in which a number of factors converge and influence the relations between countries both inside the region and far outside it.

It is quite obvious that the Black Sea region is an integral part of the old European security and cooperation system. I cannot help but mention that some Black Sea region states are still in the process of painful and stormy state construction and transformation, with multiple unresolved problems, including their territorial integrity. I also would point out that this process is taking place in parallel with the development of a democratic society in these countries, and that sometimes the two contradict each other. 

What challenges and threats does Russia see for the region? And what makes this region, which some in the West call a new bullfight arena, so important for the strategy of the European and Euro-Atlantic communities? 

Energy and Transportation Issues

The first challenge is the energy resources and unique transit potential of the Black Sea region. Russia is convinced of their importance as guarantors of future energy security in Europe. Should there be a worst-case scenario in the Middle East, the Black Sea region could make an essential contribution to European energy security. At the same time, its energy potential is a challenge, because its infrastructure is highly attractive to terrorists of various kinds and cannot absolutely be protected against current threats.

Globalization Issues

Second, the risks and threats in the Black Sea region are natural consequences of both global tendencies and the processes taking place in the region. Modern communications and transport facilities, the increased mobility of the population, and economic weakness in the region promote organized crime activities including human, drugs, and arms smuggling.

Frozen Conflicts

A third challenge is the so-called frozen conflicts. Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan face deadlocked problems that arose from the aspirations of unrecognized entities, such as administrative units and self-proclaimed territorial entities, for independence, a consequence of the disintegration of a larger state, namely, the Soviet Union. Currently there are four frozen conflicts in the region—in Abkhazia, Transdnistria, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabach—that have lasted approximately the same amount of time.


In the West, we often hear that conflicts must be resolved as soon as possible. Withdrawal of Russian peacemakers from conflict zones has been suggested among other possibilities to solve the conflicts. But which is better—to carry out peacekeeping operations to separate conflicting parties or to leave the place, allowing violence to be renewed? Russian peacekeepers remain in conflict zones not just at the will of Russia but at the request of the conflicting parties and with their consent. When people ask, “What is the relationship between the Russian Federation and all the events taking place there?” I believe that the answer is quite clear: Abkhazia and South Ossetia have common borders with Russia. A significant number of Russian citizens also live in the territories. And the Russian Federation acts as mediator and guarantor of settlement conflict in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdnistria.

What, in my opinion, must be done to solve these conflicts?  In Nagorno-Karabach, negotiations under the auspices of the OSCE have been ongoing for more than 10 years to achieve a compromise on Nagorno-Karabach’s territorial domain status. They have achieved no results, and the position of the Russian Federation on Nagorno-Karabach remains unchanged. We oppose any imposition of outside recipes on the participants of the conflict—they should make their own choice. 

In Transdnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, unrecognized republics demand recognition of their de facto independence and their right to sovereignty—the Transdnistrian and Moldovan republics, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia have existed for more than 15 years. We are deeply convinced that there are several ways to solve their problems. First of all, the problems should be solved in their own region. I would especially like to emphasize that a double standard would be unacceptable during the course of the solution; for example, you cannot struggle with separatism in the Caucasus and simultaneously encourage it in the Balkans. You cannot divide terrorists into friends and foes. And it is intolerable to demand the return of refugees in one part of Europe and forget about them in another part. 

Russia is ready to support any solution to the problems that will suit all parties involved; if a compromise is reached, Russia will also act as a guarantor of the settlement. In our opinion, any decision that will return stability and calm to the South Caucasus, maintain the historical geopolitical balance of power during the post-conflict period, and not return the region to one of international political and military rivalry will be viable and long lasting.


          All of what I have mentioned show the complexity of the problems, tendencies, and challenges the Black Sea region faces. Resolving and settling these issues will require the joint action of the international community, though, of course, it is impossible to prepare a universal recipe for settling specific conflicts. However, I do suggest that, to return stability and safety to the region, the present political leadership of the countries in the region show a more purposeful approach to regional problems. The major international players should also choose precise, common approaches and standards for solving the frozen conflicts and the international organizations should promote solutions to problems concerning regional safety.

          This means fully employing the creative mechanisms in the Black Sea region for countering threats, including terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Specifically I mean the operational naval group BLACKSEAFOR and the anti-terrorist operation Black Sea Harmony.  I also believe that the OSCE is not fully performing in the Black Sea region. We should also call on such mechanisms as the Russia-NATO Council, the NATO-Ukraine Commission, the Partnership for Peace program, and the European Union’s recently adopted Black Sea Synergy Concept. Countries in the region should also pay more attention to developing good neighborly relations, trust, and cooperation.


          Regarding the Balkans, the new European realities are now touching in the most direct way a wide spectrum of national interests of the Russian Federation. In the geostrategic context, the Balkans are for us an important element of communication that connects Russia with Europe and provides us with access to global trade routes. In the geopolitical context, Russia’s interests have historically concentrated there. But the situation in the Balkans now is much more complicated. For the last 15 years, changes have been taking place in the post-Yugoslav ethnic and political space. In addition, I believe that the near future of European development will depend on the solution to the problems in the Balkans. In my opinion, this is a long-term challenge to European stability and security. 

There are two closely connected issues regarding these problems: where the borders will be established and on what basis the new countries will be formed—as civil societies or ethnic ones.  The agreement on Kosovo between Russia and the West is well known—we are facing a dilemma.  Even if the international community and the U.N. Security Council formally establish Kosovo’s status, real life does not guarantee that it will not be applied to other situations. Whether anyone at this workshop wants it or not, Kosovo will unavoidably be perceived as a precedent in many places around the world.

 Is there any way out of the Kosovo deadlock? If Kosovo’s independence is proclaimed unilaterally, such a decision will not bring the Serbs back to Kosovo and will not guarantee their rights. Who can guarantee that coming events will not set off the powder keg of Europe? The difficulties of the Balkan situation are also worsening in another way, because of the aspiration of Serb leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to conduct a referendum and separate themselves from Bosnia Herzegovina. What can Russia and the West do in this situation? It is hardly possible to give you the clear-cut answer that both political leaders as well as international organizations are trying to find. Apparently, the agenda includes a burning question about finding a reasonable compromise and bringing about mutual understanding to stabilize the Balkans. Finding the solution to ethnic and territorial problems within the united Europe is an attractive concept. However, it will probably take a long time to bring it to life. 

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