By Álvaro Peñas
Interview with Adam Starski, Three Seas Initiative specialist and Poland Daily journalist. Starski was present at the latest summit of the Initiative, held in Riga on 20-21 June.
What is the Three Seas Initiative?
The Three Seas Initiative is a presidential forum that was established in Dubrovnik in 2016 and has been meeting annually ever since. This year it was held in Riga, Latvia, and next year it will be held in the Romanian capital Bucharest. The Three Seas Initiative was created by Polish President Andrzej Duda and former Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović to address infrastructure deficiencies in Central and Eastern Europe. For historical reasons, the Iron Curtain and Soviet domination, all roads were built to head towards Moscow, but after the fall of communism all these countries wanted their roads to head west. Moreover, the roads between all these countries were very poor and travel between them took two or three times the time needed in Western Europe. The Three Seas Initiative was created to address these legacy infrastructure problems and covers three areas: transport, energy and digitalisation. The project has become increasingly ambitious, with development banks setting up investment funds. These funds serve to develop new projects in the aforementioned fields.
For example, at this Riga summit, a major investment in Bulgaria was announced, with the acquisition of part of the port of Burgas, and that the United States International Development Finance Corporation will provide, probably by the end of the year, 300 million dollars to the Initiative’s investment fund.
Which countries form the Three Seas Initiative?
Twelve countries, of which eleven were former USSR or satellite countries: the three Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the Visegrad group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic), Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria. All are members of the European Union.
Is the Three Seas Initiative a purely economically focused organisation, and is there any political aspect as in the case of Visegrad?
No, there is no political coordination in matters such as defence, migration, etc. However, there are always some political components, when asking for infrastructure investments from the EU, countries coordinate to lobby for their plans to be taken into consideration. And on the military side, so important now because of the war in Ukraine, the term “military mobility” was repeated in view of the presence of more NATO equipment and personnel, and, of course, in case of a crisis, good infrastructure is necessary to move troops.
The Three Seas Initiative was created as a presidential forum, but year after year, with each new summit, there are also meetings of foreign ministers, infrastructure ministers and so on. This year in Riga there have been meetings of parliamentarians from member countries, so it can be said that the Three Seas Initiative is growing.
Some point out that this idea could grow into the concept of the Intermarium, designed by Marshal Pilsudski in 1918, and could even rival the EU.
This has been a problem for the Three Seas Initiative because many in Western Europe, especially in Germany, have believed that this could happen. That is why the Three Seas Initiative has focused on economic development rather than political development. At the beginning, at the 2016 summits in Croatia and the 2017 summit in Warsaw, there were many doubts from the European Commission, but in 2018 the Commission, Germany and the United States received the status of strategic partners of the Three Seas Initiative. After that, these problems started to disappear. What will happen in the future? No one can say.
The term “Intermarium” is not used by the member countries of the Three Seas Initiative. The Poles feel that talking about the Intermarium can create misunderstandings and prefer not to talk about it. Moreover, Pilsudski’s project had many forms and some included countries such as Belarus and Ukraine, in others Finland, and so on. The Three Seas Initiative is a different project and cannot be said to be the same, but at the same time it is the same geographical area and represents formal cooperation, so it is logical that many think in that direction.
In view of Ukraine and Moldova’s candidate status for the EU, has the summit discussed the incorporation of these countries into the Three Seas Initiative?
Ukraine has been on the table this year. Polish President Andrej Duda already expressed his idea last year of bringing Ukraine closer to the Three Seas Initiative. As I mentioned earlier, the Initiative is only for EU member states, but now a formula has been created, the “participating partners”, for countries that are candidates for EU membership or are very close to it: Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and the countries of the Western Balkans. Ukraine received this status at this summit and became the first “participating partner” of the Three Seas Initiative. President Duda said that in the future Bosnia could become one, and the Romanian president said the same of Georgia and Moldova. It is also worth mentioning that all Three Seas Initiative countries are in favour of Ukraine’s rapid EU membership.
What was the feeling at the summit regarding the war in Ukraine?
The meeting of the presidents is behind closed doors, so we cannot know exactly what was said, but the general feeling was one of support for Ukraine, which is why Zelensky was invited to participate in the summit. The Three Seas Initiative is not a monolithic bloc and there are countries more involved in sending arms to Ukraine such as Poland, the Baltics, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, while countries such as Slovenia, with a recent change of government, or Austria are less enthusiastic.
Poland has decided to increase its army and even include military discipline in schools – do the Polish people support these measures and support for Ukraine?
Poland is the most pro-Ukrainian country in the EU. According to polls, the vast majority of Poles, both government and opposition supporters, do not want Ukraine to give up territory for peace and want Russian war criminals to be brought to justice. Regarding the expansion of the Polish army, the opposition has argued for a smaller, better equipped and trained army, but the government has said that Poland has the capacity to expand its army and to equip and train it properly. In general, Poles are in favour of these measures and of including military discipline in schools.
I also wanted to ask you about the NATO summit in Madrid. Poland wanted, and has achieved, a stronger NATO presence on its territory.
The proximity of the war, in which a military power such as Russia is involved, makes the presence of more NATO soldiers in Poland necessary. This is very important to us because we Poles remember that in 1939 we had a military alliance that would support us within two weeks of the start of the war, but after that time our allies decided at a meeting in Abbeville that they were not going to come to our aid. We do not want that to happen again, and that is why we want more American or NATO troops on our territory.
Source: El Correo de España