YALTA (Reuters)–Leaders from 11 countries ringing the Black Sea ended a two-day summit in a Crimean resort on Friday. Among topics discussed were the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and prospects of oil transport in the region.
"A large obstacle in the way of our strength is armed conflict–aggressive separatism and nationalism in our region," said Azerbaijan’s President Haydar Aliyev–whose own state has been deadlocked with neighboring Armenia for a decade over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
There was a unanimous warning at the summit that war threatened the troubled region’s prosperity.
Embattled Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze said resurgent ethnic violence in the west of the former Soviet republic could halt plans to ship Caspian oil to western markets.
"Terrorism and force is hanging like a sword of Damocles over the whole complex of companies and enterprises that are involved in transporting oil,"’ he said in an address at the end of the summit in the Ukrainian resort of Yalta.
Leaders–save Russian President Boris Yeltsin who stayed at home to nurse his troubled economy–signed a charter on Friday formally establishing the Black Sea Economic Cooperation group as a regional body.
It was first founded under Turkey’s initiative in 1993 to promote stability through economic ties in the volatile region. BSEC comprises Turkey–Russia–Ukraine–Greece–Albania–Bulgaria–Romania–Georgia–Azerbaijan–Armenia and Moldova.
Russia–the United States–Turkey and Iran are playing a high-stakes game for control over the flow of billions of dollars worth of oil exports from the landlocked Caspian basin.
One of the planned routes is through Georgia–with oil from Azerbaijan scheduled to flow to Georgia’s Black Sea port of Supsa at the end of this year.
But a flare-up of violence in its breakaway territory of Abkhazia has sparked fears of a return to war. Georgia is also key to Turkey’s and the United States’ own proposed oil export route from Azerbaijan to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
The clouds of war also gathered over the Balkans–with BSEC member Albania warning of "open war"’ in Kosovo–a predominantly ethnic Albanian province in neighboring Serbia.
"When people ask me is there a war there (Kosovo) or not–it is a war because people have been killed–homes have been destroyed,"’ Albanian President Rexhep Meidani told Reuters.
"But it is not a classic war–with borders and frontiers,"’ he said. BSEC–however–decided against making a joint declaration–as sought by Albania–against the violence in Kosovo.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said organized crime and the smuggling of guns–narcotics and radioactive material also threatened stability in the region.
But concern over the health of the Russian economy–whose ups and downs move markets from the Central Asian steppes to Warsaw–appeared to subside after Russia announced a substantial interest rate cut on Thursday.
Russian Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko put a positive spin on the gathering. "`This (BSEC charter) is a step on the road to economic transformation,"’ he said.
Kiriyenko said a long stalled BSEC bank–seen as the financial backbone of the group–would be operational by the end of this year.