Energy dominates crucial Black Sea summit

Twelve Black Sea countries are meeting for what shapes as a crucial summit in Turkey's capital, Istanbul. Energy Security and closer economic links will be discussed at the 15th Organization of Black Sea Economic Co-operation summit.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has also arrived in Istanbul to take part in the meeting.

The twelve leaders of the organisation's member-states have had working breakfast. And later today they are expected to sign a common declaration on strengthening the co-operation between the organisation's member-states.

Foreign ministers of the states have already held discussions. Energy, transport, fighting terrorism and culture ties were among the issues on their agenda.

“Russia jointly with other partners has been contributing in maturing the organization. We've passed through this stage and now the activity of BSEC is filled with practical multilateral projects, such as the construction of the Black Sea highway road, development of shipping routes, including the resumption of passenger ferry transportation between Black Sea ports,” Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

The minister also added that “the Russian delegation will sign the memorandum for facilitation of road transportation. In general, the co-operation in transport could give additional impetus to co-operation in other fields, including the energy security of the Black Sea region by harmonising the energy strategies of our countries”.

This is the 15th anniversary summit of the organisation and all the member-states agree that it has vast economic potential. The territory that unites the twelve states is larger than the EU and, also, it's the second largest source of oil and gas in the world after the Gulf region. Moreover, it's rapidly becoming a major corridor for transport and energy transfer in Europe.

However, many member-states admit that the organisation hasn't been able to fully develop its potential and that's what Turkey, which currently presides over the BSEC, wants to change now. It wants the organization to become more visible, more prominent on the international arena and to develop closer ties with the EU.

Meanwhile, some experts believe that as time goes by, BSEC could and even should become an alternative to the European Union.

As for relations between Russia and Turkey, the two countries are major trading partners as the greater part of Turkey's gas imports come from Russia. Turkey is also the number one spot for Russian tourists to visit.

Local media in Istanbul have hailed the rise of strong Russian-Turkish ties, and locals welcome Moscow's criticism of U.S. foreign policy.

“After September 11th, the U.S. started pursuing policies that have a negative impact on the world. President Putin's Munich speech showed that there is an alternative to the U.S. supremacy in the world. This speech should have been made even earlier,” stated Fevzi Kahraman, the general manager at Ihlas News Agency.

The war in Iraq spurred strong popular opposition in Turkey. The Parliament voted down the move to deploy U.S. troops on its territory to attack Iraq.

“After the war in Iraq most people here see the U.S. as an enemy. There are no such feelings towards Russia. Some within the military support stronger ties with Russia. But that does not mean that we should forget about the U.S. and Europe,” Mustafa Necati Ozfatura, retired colonel of Turkey Airforce.

Europe is what Ankara has now firmly set its sights on, although EU membership is expected to take about ten years.

The BSEC was founded on June 25th 1992 in Istanbul and is aimed at fostering interaction and harmony in the Black Sea region.

Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine are all BSEC members.

Thirteen countries, including Belarus, Germany, the United States, and France have the status of observer.