Russian aggression as a catalyst for the development of the Three Seas Initiative

The Russian aggression against Ukraine showed the need to create a strong and integrated political and economic area in Central and Eastern Europe, which would have the potential to “seal off” the rest of Europe from Russia. Such a function can be performed by the Three Seas Initiative, the development of which is in the interest not only of the countries of the region associated with it, but also of Western European countries.

Although the Three Seas Initiative serves to strengthen ties in the region of Central Europe in the broader sense (between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas), creating lasting foundations for economic development in the field of energy, transport, digital communication and the economy, it is therefore mainly economic in nature, its strategic importance seems be invaluable. First of all, it makes it possible to make up for the development backwardness resulting from historical events, which is particularly important in a situation of threat from Russia. It allows for the organization of a strong network – communication, economic, raw materials – in order to make the rest of the European continent independent of Russian supplies. Creating a new type of partnership with the Three Seas Initiative for countries aspiring to join the European Union opens up new opportunities for international cooperation and building relationships, not only commercial ones.

“Further strengthening of infrastructural connections between the countries of the region, including gas and electricity connections, are priority actions that we must implement” – stressed Andrzej Duda during the last summit of the Three Seas Initiative. He stressed that it was about co-creating economic and communication ties, and above all about building security spheres in our part of Europe. “This security is not military – we have the North Atlantic Alliance, of which we are all members, to guarantee military security – but this security in its other indications – energy security, communication security, and also cyber security” – he enumerated. In this regard Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is not only a serious challenge, but above all, it gives the Three Seas Initiative itself the potential to transform from a local initiative into an initiative of global importance – securing the supply of raw materials, food and logistics chains.

The aspect of guaranteeing uninterrupted supplies of energy resources and their diversification is particularly important. The model of permanent binding of the European Union to Russian hydrocarbons, promoted by Germany, collapsed with the invasion of Vladimir Putin’s troops into Ukraine. As a result, the European Union faced a choice: either to continue to finance the criminal regime in Moscow by purchasing energy resources, or to quickly diversify. The latter would not be possible without cooperation with the Three Seas Initiative countries, especially Poland and Lithuania. Ukraine will play an important role in the energy and economic puzzle as soon as it manages to repel Russian aggression – although heavily damaged by the invader, it still retains its rich deposits of raw materials. And although it will require a recovery plan, the importance of both its raw materials and fertile soils will certainly be high. Hence, granting Ukraine the status of a special partner during the Riga summit has its deep justification.

Already, the Three Seas Initiative countries account for almost 20% of the GDP of the entire European Union and their average economic growth is better than the EU average – in 2015–2019, the average GDP growth in the Three Seas Initiative was 3.5%. In the same period, the average GDP growth for the entire EU was only 1.6%. They are also a great place to invest, which, despite the proximity of the front, is a safe place and offers the prospect of high profits. Anyway, the Initiative itself was conceived primarily as a commercial project, which began to develop on other levels as well.

The need for institutionalization

When in August 2016, during the Three Seas Initiative forum in Croatian Dubrovnik, the concept of cooperation between the Initiative countries was adopted as “an informal platform for gaining political support and organizing decisive actions regarding specific cross-border and macro-regional projects of strategic importance for countries involved in the sectors of energy, transport, digital communication and economy in Central and Eastern Europe”, such a strong and rapid development of this project was not expected, and thus – the creation of formal structures to represent the Three Seas Initiative in international relations was not foreseen. Now – not only because of the war in Ukraine, but above all because of the efficient operation of the Initiative itself – this need is becoming more and more urgent. For now, the creation of the Three Seas Secretariat is discussed more often by experts than politicians, but this issue is being discussed and it seems that as the Initiative develops, it will have to be formalized. This would facilitate not only the coordination of the organization of subsequent summits, work under the presidency or actions and projects undertaken by states, but also talks with potential investors from outside the 12 associated countries. The more so that it may turn out that the lack of the Three Seas Initiative institutions will become a barrier to its further development.

The US needs a reliable partner

A strong economic and political space in this part of Europe, which the Three Seas Initiative has the potential to be, is also needed by the United States. Hence, among other things – apart from the expectations for a specific profit – the declaration of support for the Three Seas Fund with the amount of USD 300 million. After the experience of partnership with Berlin, the US redirected the specific burden of its cooperation to Warsaw, and indirectly to the countries associated with the Three Seas Initiative. This cooperation has a multi-vector dimension and covers both economic issues – including the supply of raw materials – as well as political and security issues. Washington’s disappointment with Berlin’s stance on their interests and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine have created exceptionally favorable conditions for strengthening the position of the Three Seas Initiative countries, presenting them with completely new opportunities, but also challenges. On the one hand, they are expected to create efficient logistic corridors, through which – in the face of Russia’s seizure of the Black Sea ports – food from Ukraine would be transported to Africa and the Middle East. On the other hand, Americans see them as a foothold for their presence in Europe.

Investments in the Three Seas Fund are a real strengthening of the resilience of its countries to various surfaces of Russian aggression – not only in the economic area, but also – through the development of the north-south connection network – in the area of security. Thus, a very specific synergy of individual structures and dependencies can be seen here, to which no Western European country can remain indifferent. The weakness of the region of Central and Eastern Europe would result in the situation in the western part of the continent, not only because of economic and trade links within the European Union, but also for purely strategic reasons. For Russia no longer perceives not only Ukraine or Poland, but the whole of Europe as a field for domination, so creating a “buffer” and putting a stop to these attempts is in the well-understood interest of the entire European community.

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