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Poland and the Success of its “Intermarium” Project

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The Intermarium Project refers to a geopolitical concept developed by the 20th century Polish leader Jozef Pilsudski, involving the region from the Baltic to the Black seas. Following the dissolution of the Russian Empire in the wake of World War 1 (1914-1918), Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania and Belarus formed independent, albeit short-lived nation-based states. Pilsudski believed that an alliance of those four states in a federal body could safeguard their respective sovereignties.

In late 1930s, Hungary, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Romania were added to the concept under the initiative of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jozef Beck. For both Pilsudski and Beck, the Intermarium Project would essentially involve the lands of the former 16-17 cc. Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Pilsudski was not trying to invade the neighboring states, but he hoped that the space would be under Polish leadership.

The idea of the Intermarium varied depending on the time and place of its formulation, sometimes stretching from the Scandinavian countries up to the Balkans. The concept survived in Polish and Central Eastern European political thinking during communist times, primarily through the work of the elites of eastern European countries and with British and US financial support.

However, discussion of the project was censored in Central and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, with the Soviets very much interested in destroying the concept. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Intermarium Project slowly but steadily reemerged from near oblivion.

In the past decade, a similar project, called the Trimarium (the space between the Black, Baltic and Adriatic seas) emerged in the political thinking of eastern European elites.

The difference is that the Intermarium is a historical project of regional integration, while the Trimarium, or “Three Seas Initiative” is a project of regional cooperation. The geopolitical confusion caused by these two terms is caused by the fact that it is Poland which is expected to raise the banner of small nations against potential geopolitical rivals.

Along with Poland, another important country in the region of the Intermarium is Romania, which has developed close military ties with Poland and other neighboring states. The Baltics are also involved in various initiatives.

Yet, there is also a certain amount of pessimism surrounding the project. Few countries want to reignite the Cold War geopolitical battle over Eastern Europe. Most Europeans, even those in Eastern Europe, believe that it is possible to accommodate Russian interests without creating a new containment strategy. The US, however, is much interested and sponsors the development of this project, though the project actually directly challenges one of Europe’s most defining institutions, NATO. The Intermarium is not formally subject to NATO strategy, but in reality it functions outside it.

The vitality of the Intermarium project also means that Poland and other eastern Europe states will be less willing to live according to the French and German understanding of the European space. Most Intermarium members are outside the Eurozone but constitute the most economically dynamic part of Europe.

A driving motive behind the creation of the Intermarium and its existence nowadays still is the seeming threat emanating from Russia. Events in Ukraine since 2014 have confirmed Polish thinking. Warsaw understands the region from a difference perspective than western Europeans. The nation, traumatized by world wars in the 20th century and constant divisions of its territory by Germans (Prussians) and Russians in the 18th century, sees an opportunity to enhance the region around itself through military and economic means. It can be even argued that by 2019 there are arguably much better chances for the success of the project than ever before.

The most notable reason the Intermarium project was so easily killed off in the 20th century was not so much the creation of a powerful of Soviet state in Russia, but rather by German intentions. The Poles might have resisted and succeeded in taming the Soviet threat if not for the attack from the rear. Interestingly, the 18th century Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth was destroyed in the same fashion by the Germans (with Prussians pressing on Poland from behind). In contrast, when Poland had its rear safe and clear, it was able to stop the Russian threat as it did in 1920.

In that sense, nowadays, we see interesting developments in Europe where Poland does not have to worry about a military threat from the European hinterland and can now concentrate on thwarting Russian geopolitical intentions. Moreover, the US is also interested in supporting the Poles, creating exceptionally good conditions for the success of the Intermarium.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Eastern Europe

Quality of Life in Latvia is not a priority

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Four presidents, 14 governments and eight Seimas have changed in Latvia over the past 20 years. The country joined the European Union and NATO, and then switched to the euro. But have Latvians become better off? Has their quality of life improved? Statistics shows that the general well-being of population remains very low. Political turbulence only worsens the situation.

Thus, according to Numbeo.com portal, one of the largest databases on the cost of living and quality of life worldwide, Lithuania and Latvia are the worst Nordic countries for quality of life.

Quality of Life Index by Country 2019

The leaders of the rating are Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Latvia showed the lowest result, the quality of life index here is 149.15 points. In Lithuania, the result is slightly higher – 156.36 points.
Numbeo experts took into account the purchasing power of the population, safety, health care, the cost of living and some other factors.

It is noted that the world ranking of countries for the quality of life is led by Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. Estonia took 11th place, Lithuania – 29th, and Latvia – 34th.

The more so, experts said that the proportion of shadow economy in Latvia rose by 2.2 percentage point last year to 24.2 percent.

The shadow economy proportion in Latvia has risen for the past two years in a row.

EU-SILC survey gives another frightening indicator. According to eurostat.ec.europa.eu, Latvia, as well as Estonia and Lithuania are top three EU countries in terms of poverty risk among pensioners.

Political and economic short-sightedness has lead to the state when the Baltic States have become the first battlefield in case of war between NATO and Russia.

The United States is preparing for the use of nuclear weapons in Europe along with non-nuclear countries, said Vladimir Ermakov, director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Experts point out that military airfields in the Baltic States and Poland have already been prepared to receive NATO aircraft that can carry tactical nuclear weapons. If take his words seriously, this means the end of the Baltic States’ existence.

The behavior of the authorities guaranteed Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia the status of the first battlefield, despite the fact that in the event of war, economy would be completely destroyed and population would disappear.

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Eastern Europe

How the Caspian Sea joins the Black Sea

Asim Suleymanov

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In the development of international cooperation and the deepening of industrial cooperation, the leading role belongs to the formation of a network of international transport corridors. It has a special place in solving transport problems associated with the expansion of interstate transportation, economic, cultural and other ties, with the creation of an international transport infrastructure that has common technical parameters and ensures the use of a single transportation technology as the basis for the integration of national transport systems into the global transport system.

Developing corridors are to play a system-forming role in the economic and social development of the territories along which they pass. Their creation is directly related to projects for the development of sectors of the economy and social sphere.

If a modern transport corridor connects the Caspian Sea and Black Sea, it will lead to uninterrupted cargo transportation between Asia and Europe. New opportunities for the regional states will be opened up. This was confirmed by the first meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Romania, Georgia and Turkmenistan, held in mid-March 2019 in Bucharest.

According to its results, a political declaration was signed. The document reflects the determination of the four states to implement the project of an international freight route between two seas by joint forces.

As expected, the corridor between the two seas will have a real impact on the standard of living in the participating countries and cause a sharp surge in business activity in neighboring regions.

The idea of the project is to make full use of the geographical proximity of Romania, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, as well as the capabilities of the ports of Constanta in Romania, Poti in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan and Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.

New transport route will allow establishing a direct connection between the port of Constanta and the Danube River, and then the rivers and canals on the European continent, that will open access to Central and Northern Europe.

In general, the Caspian-Black Sea region is becoming links of a single Eurasian transport network.

The main question is how to direct the necessary volumes of cargo along this route, which would make its work profitable and profitable. To meet these challenges, in the near future four countries have planned to create an expert working group, optimize working procedures, harmonize tariffs, identify remaining infrastructure and legal constraints, and jointly promote the project at the international level, including in the course of interaction with the European Union. But it will not be easy for them to achieve all these ambitious goals.

The closest allies of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia, support all the projects aimed at strengthening economic cooperation between Baku and other countries of the Caspian-Black Sea region. Moscow and Ankara are lobbying for the creation of a transport corridor between the two seas.

Azerbaijan once again demonstrates that it is becoming one of the most important transport hubs of Eurasia – a transit hub in which the East and the West are tightly tied.

This country is interested in East and West, not conflicting with each other, but driven forward by the single energy of partnership.

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Eastern Europe

China’s changing interests in South Caucasus

Orkhan Baghirov

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President Ilham Aliyev and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing Photo: Azertac

On April25-28,“Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation” took place in the capital city of China. From South Caucasus region only Azerbaijan leader Aliyev was in the list of 36 top-Level attendees (Diplomat, April 27).As the Azerbaijan was participating first forum in 2017 on ministerial level, visit of President in second forum demonstrates intention of both sides for close cooperation within the framework BRI.

Despite fact that China’s strong ambition to enter European market through BRI makes Georgia one of the most important players in the region (it has FTA both with China and EU) its high-level officials did not attend the forum (Emerging-Europe, January 3, 2018).

Generally, South Caucasus region was not in the Chinese focus when the BRI project was unveiled in 2013.Its attitude to the region has changed afterwards. Being part of the Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, South Caucasus has strategic importance for China. At the same time, transportation projects such as Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and Anaklia Deep-Sea Port has increased significance of the region.

From geopolitical point of view stability in Azerbaijan and Georgia’s political problems with Russia creates ground for Chinese presence in Caucasus. It is clear that having political problems with West Russia is not willing to confront China. Therefore, using these opportunities and establishing good relations both with Georgia and Azerbaijan China is able to avoid its biggest rival in Eurasia and use shortest way to European markets (Trend.az, April 10).

Importance of South Caucasus countries within the BRI framework is not same. Armenia has less potential for BRI. It does not have enough transportation infrastructure and its borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey closed. Armenia has a potential to become a corridor to markets of Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and Iran. However, it does not have borders with the members of EEU and  railway project between Armenia and Iran is not viable due its high costs ($3.2 billion) and less importance in commercial means (Vestnikkavkaza, August 25, 2018).Also, China has borders with two biggest members of EEU and could easily reach EEU markets through them. 

In the case of Georgia, China is the biggest foreign investor. China’s Hualing Group controls Kutaisi free industrial zone (FIZ), owns Basis Bank, hotels, wine export enterprise. It also constructs “Tbilisi Sea New City” near Tbilisi Sea in which company has already invested around 150 million dollars (hualing.ge).Another Chinese company CEFC Energy owns 75% of Poti FIZ (Cbw.ge, March 20).

Unlike the Georgia, mostly state-owned Chinese companies have invested in Azerbaijan. One of these companies CTIEC Group constructed biggest cement factory in Azerbaijan in 2014.China also has a great interest on Baku International Sea Trade Port as it is one of the main ports within BRI. Based on intergovernmental grant agreement China transferred $2 million worth equipment to the port (Azernews, April 4, 2018).

Despite fact that Azerbaijan is China’s key trade partner in the South Caucasus (it accounts 43 percent of China’s trade turnover in the region) it has massive investments in Georgia (Azernews, April 25). It mostly related to political orientation of these countries. Georgia follows more western orientation that made it more attractive for China while Azerbaijan implements balanced strategy and it does not want to feel China’s pressure. Besides, Azerbaijan is not in need of financial assistance like Armenia and Georgia as it has enough financial reserves.

However, recent developments of Sino-Azeri economic relations within the framework of the Second Belt and Road Forum creates new perspectives for China’s presence in South Caucasus. During the forum 10 agreements worth of 821 million USD has been signed  (Azvision.az, April 24). These contracts cover different economic spheres of non-oil sector including the construction of a tire factory in the Sumgayit chemical-industrial park, the creation of a 300-hectare greenhouse complex in the Kurdamir region of Azerbaijan, and the construction of agrological industrial parks in the Guba, Goychay and Khachmaz regions (Turan.az April 24).If we take in account that Chinese investors have invested800 million USD in the economy of Azerbaijan since independence, obtained agreements in the forum worth of same amount shows China’s growing interest in Azerbaijan.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that China’s preference of Georgia has changed. Within the BRI project both Azerbaijan and Georgia are of geopolitical importance for China. It is in China’s interest to boost bilateral relations with both of countries. It is apparent that China already has considerable investments in Georgia and now it is time to deepen cooperation with Azerbaijan. At the same time Azerbaijan is not going to cross limits of its balanced policy. Chinese companies that signed agreements in second forum are government affiliated companies as well. It again shows that Azerbaijan is willing to deepen cooperation without creating room for pressure in its domestic economy.

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