Black Sea Security Forum Day 2

The topics for Day 2 were:

  • “Grain and Waves: Odesa Emerges as the World’s Major Port”
  • “A Dive in the Black Sea for Trump: Post-Election Speculations and Implications
  • Wartime challenges for the Black Sea states
  • “The Black Sea: A Crucial NATO Asset – Rectifying Missteps from the Bucharest Summit”
  • “Charting the Path to Resolve the Transnistrian Conundrum”
  • “From the Varangians to the Greeks: The Revival of the Baltic-Black Sea Union”
  • “HOW could we STOP the RUSSIAN influence on the elections IN MOLDOVA?”

Panelists included:

  • Taras Vysotskyi, Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine
  • Brooks Newmark, former British MP, former Minister of Civil Society
  • Rémi Duflo,Charge d’Affaires, EU Delegation to Ukraine
  • Ambassador Cindy McCain, Executive Director of World Food Programme
  • Michael C. Ryan, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy
  • James O’Brien, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
  • Ambassador Kurt Volker, former Special Representative for Ukraine of the US
  • Michał Kamiński, Deputy Speaker of the Senate of the Republic of Poland
  • Francois Hollande, former President of France
  • Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Senator
  • Mihai Popșoi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Moldova
  • Pavlo Klimkin, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
  • Margareta Cederfelt, Swedish Member of Parliament,
  • Kira Rudik, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Leader of Party “Golos”,
  • Indrek Saar, former Leader of the Social Democratic Party of Estonia
  • Alexandru Balan former deputy director of SIS Moldova
  • Radu Burduja, former Deputy Minister of Defense and Military Representative of Moldova to NATO and the EU

I list them just to get across that these were not garden variety pundits (like me). These were very senior and experienced politicians and officials from not just Ukraine, but also Moldova, Sweden, Estonia, Poland, France, the US and UK.

One (semi) amusing thing I learnt is that when there are foreign dignitaries in Ukraine, they actually increase missile and bombing activity, to send a message to pother countries to stay away. The reason I call this semi-amusing is because I had assumed the opposite. When deciding whether to attend, I reasoned that Russia would be more restrained and do less bombings as they wouldn’t want to kill a former President of France. But as it turns out, it was the opposite!

My notes are not as detailed as Day 1, as I was too busy listening to write as much, but some salient points:

  • 20% of grain to other countries through World Food Programme comes from Ukraine, and much of it through Odesa and Black Sea. The conflict there has huge impact on food security
  • Port of Odesa has annual traffic capacity of 40 million tonnes
  • Ukrainian farmers have been targeted as well as soldiers. Russia has bombed tractors.
  • Both sea mines and land mines are big challenge to food security
  • Crimea is strategically vital, and if it remains with Russia, there will never be security in the Black Sea
  • There was a UN negotiated grain corridor, but it lapsed a year or so ago, yet Ukraine has managed to unilaterally manage a corridor by sinking so many Russian ships
  • A fascinating discussion on turning Odessa into a free trade zone like Hong Kong, once the conflict is over
  • Lots of discussion on what a Trump win will mean for the conflict.
  • One Trump supporters said that you need to make an economic case to Trump – Ukrainian victory is cheaper than alternative
  • Also highlighted that Trump likes to back a winner and take credit for it. So the better Ukraine can do in the next six months, the more likely he will continue support
  • Was stressed that who Trump appoints as NSA and in key staff roles will be key
  • Moldova has little domestic energy capacity – used to import almost everything from Russia, giving Russia huge influence and even control
  • Since the invasion of Ukraine, Moldova has now freed itself from Russian gas supplies but is still dependent on electricity from a province controlled by Russia.
  • There have been a total of 10 wars since the collapse of USSR in this region – all involving Russia

The final point was the most salient one – that the biggest threat to Russian security is the Kremlin.

Putin has pushed Sweden and Finland into NATO

He has turned Ukraine towards Europe forever.

He has sent Moldova towards energy independence from Russia

NATO isn’t expanding because of NATO. NATO is expanding because all of Russia’s neighbours have seen that they need protection against Putin.

I spent a lot of time in Ukraine chatting to locals. I would always ask them what their reaction was when Russia invaded. Did they think it would happen? And most of them said that despite all the warnings it was coming, it was still a huge shock that Putin was trying to take over their country. Crimea had always been an area of dispute, but to actually have a fully fledged invasion was unthinkable.

The reason it was is that Ukrainians and Russians are like New Zealanders and Australians. They are friends and relatives. Many Ukrainians have Russian ancestry. They do not bear any ill well against ordinary Russians, just against Putin.

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