Calming the Black Sea


For the foreseeable future, the Black Sea group for economic cooperation formed by Russia and 10 nations of the Balkan Peninsula is likely to remain a mere letter of intent, considering the region's political and economic turmoil. But this joint effort is a welcome one because it encourages leaders of these neighboring countries to sit down together and talk about their common problems.

Indeed, it was a miracle that leaders of Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey were able to agree to create a Black Sea zone that intends to coordinate regional transportation and communications, information and ecology, investment and power. Azerbaijan and Armenia, after all, are close to war and Romania, Russia and Ukraine have serious disagreements with newly independent Moldova about territorial and ethnic issues. (Yugoslavia wasn't even invited; its civil war was deemed to be too explosive).

The Moldovan crisis follows the erosion of the geopolitical results of World War I and the unraveling of the international order established after World War II in the Black Sea region. The disintegration that started with the Soviet Union already has thrown Yugoslavia into fratricide. The dangerous Macedonian question now threatens to spill over into portions of Greece, Bulgaria and Albania.

In contrast with the Macedonian question, which various countries want to keep in check, the Moldovan crisis is difficult to contain. It has been a perennial bone of contention for too long.

Once known as Bessarabia, today's Moldova bounced back and forth between the Ottoman Empire and Russia for a century until the Turks ceded it to Moscow in 1812. After World War I, Bessarabia became part of Romania. Stalin grabbed the land in 1940. Later, a portion of Ukraine was added to the territory first known as Moldavia and more recently renamed Moldova.

Because this history and because the 2.8 million ethnic Moldovans are no different from Romanians, Bucharest would want to reincorporate the territory. During the Soviet rule, however, substantial Ukrainian and Russian minorities were created there. After Moldova declared its independence, some of those Russians established a breakaway "Dniester Republic" on historically Ukrainian land. Much blood-letting has followed.

This rough historical outline suggests how complicated the Moldovan situation is. But if the Black Sea countries are serious about achieving future stability, they must be ready to resolve such painful legacies of Soviet rule as this one.

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