Kostyantyn Hryshchenko in interview with BSNews: «For the Black Sea region vision of the common future is important»

Andrei Klimenko, Tatiana GUCHAKOVA, BlackSeaNews

On December15, 2012 Istanbul hosted the 27th summit of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Black Sea Economic Cooperation, during which Ukraine formally accepted from Turkey the BSEC chairmanship.

The Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn HRYSHCHENKO gave an exclusive interview to BSNews before the summit’s opening ...

Mr. Minister, one of our fellow experts, he is from Romania, by the way, said recently that to his opinion responsibility of Ukraine in the Black Sea region should be proportional to the length of its coastline ... How do you like such a perception that the largest and approximately equal responsibility stays in this case with Ukraine and Turkey?

Don’t you think that this contains, on the one hand, a simple and clear formula for the Black Sea Policy of Ukraine, and on the other - a powerful challenge to which it is necessary to respond vigorously and decisively. And, perhaps, starting from January 1, 2013 ... Is our country ready for this? And in what way?

The Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization was founded 20 years ago in order to facilitate improvement of the region’s economies, deepen the regional states’ cooperation in all issues relating to the Black Sea region, and the Black Sea, in particular. Therefore, I believe that we should not shift responsibility to each other, but understand clearly that security and development of the Black Sea region is our shared responsibility as the modern risks and challenges have no boundaries and do not depend on the length of the coastlines of any given state.

There is a typical example. In the early 1980s in the Black Sea they discovered ctenophore, medusoid marine animal, brought to the Black Sea and Azov Sea in ships' ballast water from far-off lands. In our seas its emergence had resulted in deaths of plankton, fish and even dolphins, and in the early 1990s the Caspian Sea did not escape this adversity as well.

Or let us consider oil spill accidents. The Black Sea has such kind of currents that oil, spilled at one of its coasts, makes a full circle along the whole Black Sea coastline within three months.

I think that even these examples prove the need for joint efforts of the region’s countries and peoples to solve common problems.

However, Ukraine clearly understands its role in the Black Sea region. Since January 1, 2013 for six months, Ukraine enters into commitments of the state-chairman of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization. During our chairmanship we will make efforts aimed at further consolidation of countries of the region in order to address the pressing issues.

We are ready to take on responsibility. At the anniversary summit, which marked 20th anniversary of the BSEC in June 2012 in Istanbul, First Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Valeriy Khoroshkovsky proclaimed a number of initiatives for our cooperation in many fields: from culture and tourism to transport and energy.

Istanbul, December 13, 2012. Ships in the Sea of ​​Marmara, waiting for being convoyed through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea, photo by Andrei Klimenko, BSNews

One of such initiatives is the development of multimodal transport in the region with the use of the ferry-rail service. In this sphere, Ukraine has sufficient experience linked with the use of combined transport train "Viking", which is a joint project of railways of Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus, port companies, and Klaipeda, Illichevsk and Odessa ports.

Recently, we can observe interest in this project’s development from the side of Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Bulgaria, as well as from several non-BSEC member countries, in the first place - Poland. This allows to say that this venture, which has already proved to be successful, might be developed further and become a genuine large-scale international project.

Implementation of the project will provide direct connection between the port cities with the help of ferry-rail link, simplify process of the goods transportation, reduce the time of goods delay at ports, increase trade between the countries and indirectly have a positive impact on the tourism sector, and passenger transportation.

At the end of November 2012 in Izmir at the meeting of ministers of transport of the BSEC member states Ukraine has once again expressed its willingness to sign a corresponding Memorandum on the inter-modal transport development. Whereby, we treat the question of cooperation "wider", beyond the scope of the Black Sea region, and offer to extend the route of "Viking" train service and include the Scandinavian countries, as well as the countries of the Caucasus and Turkey.

Istanbul, December 13, 2012. Car ferry set on through the Bosporus to the Black Sea, photo by Andrei Klimenko, BSNews

As I have already mentioned, the issue of environmental safety remains extremely important for the Black Sea.

After the collapse of the socialist camp, adoption on April 21, 1992 of so-called "Bucharest Convention" or the Convention for the Protection of the Black Sea against Pollution was one of the first international acts in the Black Sea area. While April 1993 saw ministerial-level adoption of the Odessa Declaration on the Protection of Black Sea, which recognized the need to develop and implement a national policy for coastal zone management and contained legislative measures and economic instruments to support sustainable development in the spirit of the "UN Agenda 21".

Today the efforts of the Black Sea Commission, which was established in accordance with the Bucharest Convention, are complemented by the efforts of the other international organizations, in particular the Black Sea Memorandum on Port State Control, BSEC, municipalities of the coastal cities and etc.

At the global level, these efforts are supported by the actions of such organizations as the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), such legal instruments as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments and the others.

Years of exhaustible exploitation of natural resources of the Black Sea region without regard to the impact of production facilities on the environment, have resulted in a sharp drop of the biological resource potential of the sea and its ecosystems.

In this regard, BSEC should increasingly express its position on the environmental problems of the Black Sea, developing cooperation in the assessment of the resource potential of the region, identification of regional goals and objectives of sustainable development, introduction of environmentally responsible economic activity with employment of such energy sources as solar and wind power. Ukraine is ready to share its achievements in this field with the other countries of the region.

Next year, we propose to discuss the foundations and principles of the relevant agreements and convene in Ukraine commemorative events dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Odessa Declaration, which envisages establishment and improvement of the natural protected areas in the Black Sea countries, development of coordinated plans for the protection of the Black Sea.

So we see the challenges to be addressed, and are ready to act.

Istanbul, December 13, 2012. Construction of the new bridge over the Golden Horn, photo by Andrei Klimenko, BSNews

– Dear Konstantin Ivanovich, we, as journalists, deal with the Black Sea topics everyday, and at the same time, as economic analytical experts, observe in the Black Sea region in recent years (since 2008) the increase…, let me put it diplomatically, of "political risks" for the development of economic cooperation.

We have in mind the clear trends and hints about manifold militarization of the region, about the "pipeline" geopolitics. Now "shelf" geopolitics supplements it as well. And one of our Bulgarian colleagues has recently said that geopolitics is becoming increasingly reduced to "geo-energetics". Transfusion of geopolitics, military sector and economic competition is taking place. When all these factors overlap with the number of "frozen conflicts" – then they turn into a very dangerous barrel with kerosene, next to which there are always a lot of those, who are willing "to strike matches" ... Can our peace-loving country somehow influence these processes in capacity of the BSEC chairman?

– In fact, the issue of "political risks" is not really something "new", that, so to say, has just revealed itself in recent years. Since the very establishment of the BSEC many problems of regional development have been evident in terms of political differences. As you rightly pointed out, the recent years saw the emergence of some "additional factors", which hinder our cooperation.

At the same time, we should not forget that the BSEC was established as and remains to be an organization of economic cooperation. I am not inclined to underestimate the seriousness of the existing political problems, but sometimes economy is able to dictate the terms of decision of any given questions.

At the same time, as you know, from January 1, 2013, Ukraine will not only preside over BSEC, but for the first time will chair for a year the OSCE, the world's largest regional, security issues-oriented organization. As you know, among the main priorities of the presidency in this Organization there are our actions aimed at solution of the "frozen" conflicts, including Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh.In addition, significant attention will be paid to arms control, human rights issues, humanitarian issues and other aspects.

Photo of Kostyantyn Ivanovich Hryshchenko from official page of Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Facebook

– Another our colleague – by the way, he is also from Bulgaria, has introduced recently another apt wording - "klio politics". He had in mind the "historic wars" i.e. use of national interpretations of the history of the Black Sea countries - often quite remote, past grievances and old mutual war horrors - as a highly explosive substance for our time. What will be your attitude, if Ukrainian historians, including the Crimean ones launch an initiative of the "Act of Historic Reconciliation of the Black Sea Region Nations." Our country has such kind of experience with its neighbors – with Poland, for example ...

– Each initiative, especially when it comes from public circles, has a right to exist and should be accordingly examined.

Your example of the Ukrainian-Polish relations is quite apt in terms of the will of political and other elites for historical reconciliation for the sake of the future cooperation. But it is then the example of the bilateral relations.

If to talk about many-sided cooperation in the Black Sea region, then its history barely extends back over several decades and regarding its depth and richness it can not be compared to our relations with any of our neighbors.

Therefore, in my opinion, for the Black Sea region it is more important to have the vision of the future.

We, for example, often hear about the issues of the Black Sea identity. But one must admit that this concept is more a desirable result than the reality of life. Creation of such an identity without formation of the corresponding information space, without attempts to establish effective cooperation of mass media outlets, is not feasible.

In this regard, during our BSEC presidency, we want to propose to convene annual forum of the mass media which covers the Black Sea region issues. Our Crimean Pearl- Yalta may become the venue of this forum.

Istanbul, December 13, 2012. Construction of the new bridge across the Golden Horn, photo by Andrei Klimenko, BSNews

In part, intensification of the cultural exchange can promote formation of the Black Sea identity. I am convinced that we do not need to invent anything particularly new, but just explore carefully the achievements of our predecessors.

At the time, an outstanding marine painter Ivan Aivazovsky can be described as a real representative of the Black Sea cultural identity. Nowadays various museums of the world are richly stored with his canvases. And I am convinced that creation of a traveling exhibition of contemporary marine painters of the Black Sea region will contribute not only to the accomplishment of the BSEC tasks, but will also promote the historical heritage and contemporary art, facilitate development of cultural contacts in the region, and will be interesting and informative for the peoples of our countries.

We see the greatest prospects for cooperation with public sector organizations in these and other similar questions, and reaffirm our interest in cooperation.

Istanbul, December 13, 2012. The Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, photo by Andrei Klimenko, BSNews

– When we, in our fold, design the patterns of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, we then often resort to such visualization: if the Black Sea countries in the very center of the sea would have established a joint stock company being equidistant from its coasts and would have created an artificial island to accommodate joint Expo Center or arrange the "Black Sea Olympic Games," it would be then a perfect model of cooperation. And there will be ferries and planes getting to this island...

But we do not need to mold an artificial island, since nature has already placed the Crimea in the very center of the Black Sea. Don’t you think that granting the new mission to the Crimea - for example, to represent humanitarian and economic interests of Ukraine in the Black Sea region – will bring new quality to the BSEC, and to Ukraine, and, in fact, to the Crimean autonomy?

– The Crimea is, of course, a unique region. We are fully aware of its special role and importance for the foreign policy of Ukraine. You know that Mission of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has been long operating in Simferopol, a lot of important diplomatic and political international events take place in the Crimea annually. Our diplomatic establishments in some countries, especially of the Black Sea region are constantly working on the implementation of a wide range of projects of cooperation with the Council of Ministers of the Crimea.

You may also recollect that International Black Sea Tourism Forum, which for the first time was held in Yalta in February-March of this year, was introduced into the Official Calendar of the BSEC events in 2012. Quite possibly, tourism development, including its health holidays segment, in particular, can become the hallmark of the Crimea in the region.

Besides, it is quite feasible to remember your proposals about an international media network in the Black Sea region: the relevant work regarding them has been already started on a diplomatic level.

At the same time, we must not forget about the other destinations of Ukrainian Black Sea littoral area and the other regional states. For example, over the last decade Odessa has developed into a kind of Exhibition Centre in the field of transport. Under the auspices of the BSEC this city annually hosts a number of transport conferences-exhibitions in the fields of cruise lines development, container shipping, ports and transport policy in the Black Sea region as a whole. The results of these activities are considered by BSEC authorities, corresponding conclusions and recommendations are made.

In Athens, the Black Sea Trade and Investment Promotion Programme (BSTIP) is being implemented in collaboration with UNDP, and networks for cooperation of government agencies, academic and business communities in different areas have been established within its framework. Constanta has become a scientific center, which coordinates research cooperation within the Black Sea Universities Network. Rostov-on-Don has been working to integrate the activities of seismologists within the framework of the international association.

In the near future the Joint Technical Secretariat for the development of sea routes will start its operation in Istanbul on the basis of the Turkish institutions.

Istanbul, December 13, 2012. View of the container terminal in the Bosporus, photo by Andrei Klimenko, BSNews

In addition, in 2003, BSEC has arranged several meetings of representatives of the national football associations of the member countries, during which they considered the proposal to organize regular football competitions "Black Sea Champion Cup." Unfortunately, this initiative for a number of reasons has not developed any further. Still, Ukraine has advanced further than the framework of regional cooperation by hosting this year the UEFA European football championship.

Yet another thing. The Black Sea region means specific people of our countries with their specific problems. We would like BSEC to become, first of all, an intergovernmental mechanism or platform to solve the problems of littoral communities, towns and cities in the region. Indeed, to date such kind of interregional cooperation is one of the least represented in the BSEC type of activities. We should not forget, for what sake and for whom this Organization has been created. And in this context it is necessary to start small with study of common problems, establishment of appropriate databases. It is necessary to identify and generate interest of mayor’s offices of the cities, located along the Black Sea coast, towards study of experiences of resolution of similar problems by the municipal city administrations - Black Sea neighbors from other countries.

– We can see that the basis for many problems of the Black Sea region stems from the fact that most of its countries are rather terrestrial then maritime. In their history they were more accustomed to ride horses, camels, oxen, araba carts, tachankas (machine-gun carriers) or tanks - than to travel by ships. The sea was perceived by these people as the"end of the world", as the"last bastion", the frontier line which the enemies come through and which had to be defended. People of many countries in the Black Sea region – and sometimes one can have such a feeling - are as if standing with their backs to the sea, looking at the land surface. Some towards Brussels or Moscow, the others towards China or the Middle East ... How to turn them around to face the sea, i.e. to face each other?

– Today BSEC brings together twelve countries of the Black Sea littoral, the Caucasus and the Balkans. And I see nothing surprising in the fact that each country sets its own "priorities" in this regional cooperation.

On the other hand - cooperation in the Black Sea region, it is not only cooperation within the BSEC framework. The Black Sea is also the Black Sea Synergy and the participation of countries within the framework of the "BLACKSEAFOR" (naval programs – BSNews note), the Document on Confidence and Security Building Measures in the Naval Field in the Black Sea, cooperation within the framework of the Organization for the Protection of the Black sea ​​from Pollution,as well as solution of many problems on the bilateral level.

Let me assure you that the Ukrainian government does not leave the Black Sea issues out of account and understands all its amplitude.

Istanbul, December 13, 2012. Bosphorus Strait, photo Andrey Klimenko, BSNews

Ukraine is known to be one of the few post-Soviet countries which managed to avoid sharp internal conflicts. It is true, that the Crimea is often and irresponsibly called a potential conflict point, though the experience of the past 25 years indicates the opposite - the ability to stop without crossing "the red line." This is what many of our neighbors in the Black Sea region missed at the decisive moments in case of very similar patterns of a conflict.

What will be your attitude to the following formula: Ukrainian, including Crimean experience of maintaining inter-ethnic and inter-religious peace - a unique "export product of Ukraine in the Black Sea region." And perhaps, Ukrainian chairmanship in the BSEC is a good reason for such an "export of peace" to our neighbors??

– Competence of the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine involves issues of maintenance of interethnic and inter-confessional peace only partially. We are to safeguard the most favorable external conditions for the implementation of any national priorities, development programs or projects.

Still, I completely agree with the idea that successes of Ukraine in these areas are an important component of a positive international image of our country.

We live in accordance with the principle of the famous phrase of Taras Shevchenko, which had become an aphorism: “And to your neighbours' gifts pay heed, yet do not thus neglect your own”. If our neighbors live up to the same principle, we are ready to share with them our successful experiences. But it hardly makes any sense to offer them to others as a panacea.

– And finally, one more thought of humanitarian nature. For some reason in our language we write the phrase "the Black Sea region" in small letters. And this rule is common for both Ukrainian and Russian languages... We, as economists and journalists, in recent years see that words gain more and more importance in the modern world. Dear Mr. Minister, let us, perhaps, change the usual rules and during the presidency of Ukraine in the BSEC introduce the custom to write these words with capital letters "Black Sea Region"?

– The modern reality is that, despite the semantic identity of the phrase "The region of the Black Sea" and "The Black Sea region", there is no clear definition of the corresponding concept.

As it is known, the Black Sea is surrounded by six countries, and each of them has its own idea of ​​a "Black Sea region".

BSEC defines region of its responsibility as territories of all countries, which it brings together…Thus, I might also expand your understanding, by saying that "the Black Sea region" or "the region of the Black Sea" in the Far East shares borders with the Pacific Ocean, in the west with Poland, in the east with Iran, etc.

It is possible that mentioned by you symbolic issue will be eventually resolved. But the main thing now is not to forget the original goals and objectives, which our governments pursued by putting into practice excellent idea of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation of ​​Turkish President Turgut Özal...


Istanbul, December 13, 2012. The Bosphorus Strait, bulk carrier heads for the Black Sea.Photo by Andrei Klimenko, BSNews

Translation into English by Alexey Soloviev, BSN


Translation of Taras Shevchenko quotation from My Friendly Epistle Translated by C.H. Andrusyshen & W. Kirkconnel

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