The Ambassador Leonidas Chrysantopoulos is Secretary General of the Black Sea Cooperation Organization (in English BSEC). His Excellency is a leading authority in settling quarrels between the BSEC countries, being highly respected by all the representatives of BSEC.
I did not know much about Mr. Chrysantopoulos before meeting him in an elevator to the 10th floor of a hotel where the General Meeting of BSEC-URTA (transport union in the Black Sea countries) took place. In the elevator there were Greek and Turkish delegates, among which the atmosphere is quite tense. When Chrysantopoulos entered, they all mooved away of instinct. Sign of respect. The Ambassador welcomed all in English, with elegance. During the work, he was silent until they called upon him. As she spoke, things clarified and harmonized. During the interview, he continued the diplomatic ballet, speaking as little as possible, using elementary phrases without parasitic meaning, with a stack of books filled with post-it notes and handouts on the turned off laptop. If I did not know him, short, thin, with glasses, I could and I think that he is a hermeneut came out of books to explain the texts of others like Anaxagoras and Socrates. The beginning is about a BSEC meeting that already took place. The interview remains the most current and crucial for the future of the area.
Your Excellency, I understand that after the general meeting, a BSEC meeting will takes place, also in Bucharest …
Of the finance ministers of Black Sea countries.
What are the main topics of discussion?
As it is the first meeting, we shall adopt a general statement, mentioning the economic progress made in the economic cooperation of BSEC area. A statement, of course, mentioning the Transport sector. In principle, we shall exchange impressions on what is going on in the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Area, in financial terms.
What will we discuss about the transportation sector?
It takes a very small part of the meeting. It is the first time the finance ministers meet. Usually, Transport Ministers of the BSEC countries meet to discuss about transportation. Also, BSEC Foreign Affairs Ministers discuss about Transportation. The Council of BSEC Foreign Affairs Ministers will also meet in Bucharest.
BSEC is at crossroads of political and economic interests of West and East. From this point of view, talking about Transport, which is the biggest challenge of the moment?
The biggest challenge is to make the highway ring of the Black Sea. It is about7,700 kilometersof highway around the Sea. It will link the European system of roads and highways with the Asian one, which will transform the BSEC countries in a very important road junction activity. Completion of the project will lead to development of tourism in the region. Most important for me is, of course, that will improve the citizens life in BSEC countries. It will change their life. They will feel the difference. Then, they will understand that BSEC is an organization that makes something for them.
After the 19th Meeting of BSEC-URTA, we expect to begin work on the general plan of the Black Sea Highway. Turkey has already made it unilaterally, to the border with Georgia. This highway will facilitate truck access to the Black Sea. 200 driving licenses will be allocated on a voluntary basis, not only for transit but also for transport operations. Albania has agreed to use these licenses, as the other six countries of the pilot project for the BSEC license.
Help me understand. This highway ring is very interesting to me. What does it mean, for example, in the sequence of border points in northwestern Black Sea, on the passage Giurgiulesti – Reni, crossing from Romania, Moldova and reaches Ukraine? Usually, traffic jams here, because the high waiting time in customs.
This is exactly the only problem we have. Hopefully, discussions will start between Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. Ukrainians want to skip Moldova …
Meaning, they want to skip Giurgiulesti …
Yes, they want to make a variant at Giurgiulesti south, going from Romania to Ukraine. From an objective point of view, it’s not right, because Moldova is a member state of BSEC. The Republic of Moldova is part of the list of states on which BSEC Ministers mentioned in the Memorandum and Moldova made a great effort to convince Transnistria to make some political concessions for this road to cross also their country.
I have a great curiosity. Two years ago, there was a great conflict between Georgia and Russia. How was it solved now, in terms of transport, if you say that there is only one now – the passage Giurgiulesti – Reni?
This was also my concern, but the Russians and Georgians found a solution. There is a road that goes through the mountain, through tunnel, not in Abkhazia nor in South Ossetia, but a third road…
Through the tunnel?
Yes, through the tunnel. It will be very expensive, but …
It was a military tunnel, once built by the Soviet Union. There?
Yes, yes. That road will be used. I was very pleased they reached an agreement on this issue. Then, there will be another road, which goes on Sochi, a secondary road that will be ready by the Winter Olympics, in 2014.
I understand that the following place of BSEC meeting, namely the Working Group one is in Novorossiysk?
Yes, indeed, but the Russians agreed that this meeting took place in August and I said: „In August nobody will come! Everybody is on holiday!”
And then why did they put the meeting in August?
Perhaps someone was on holiday at Novorossiysk and wanted to meet and … no, I don’t think it will be in August. Yes, it could take place in September. I raised the issue at the meeting of BSEC group on Transport and they told me that August is only an indicative date, is not an end date.
Russia has its own policy in this region and is one of the 12 BSEC members. Is has its own well-known authoritarian tendencies in the area. In fact, we are talking about controlling the trade routes between East and West. How is BSEC handling this delicate matter?
We have nothing to do with this. It is a question to which Russia must aswer. We are busy with the Black Sea Highway Ring, with other projects, we are very concerned about this issue. No. The Russians are favorable for all, except for BSEC license. We are still discussing on it.
Interview made by Florin Budescu
How is Romania seen in the organization?
I say well, Romania is a strong country, a powerful country. There are also gaps and we sang out of tune several times in BSEC. But Romania, if it performs well with Turkey and Bulgaria, it can create that corridor, south of the Black Sea, giving an alternative northern route. I see Romania as the main corridor. If you draw a straight line from Georgia over the Black Sea, from east to west, you are in Europe.
From Bulgaria, you wake up in the wilderness of former Yugoslavia. Until you get to Slovenia…
It’s more complicated. I did see the future as a corridor linking East and West, over the Caspian Sea, through Azerbaijan, Georgia, over the Black Sea in Romania and to the West. The cost of road transport in Turkey is high because fuel is expensive. There are1,400 kilometersfrom a border to the other. If you put trucks on the ferry, in one day and a half they arrive in Constanta. To pass the Caspian Sea from Turkmenbaşî to Baku is $ 800 for a typical 20-ton truck. There are600 miles. If you go from Samsun in northern Turkey, over the Black Sea at Novorossisk, it costs over $800. Atransport across the Black Sea, from Poti to Constanta would mean about 1,300 dollars. On road, through Turkey and Bulgaria, there are almost2,000 kilometers. Only diesel costs 1,000 euros! Plus allowances, plus other costs …
At this point, given the economic and geopolitical context, which is the biggest challenge faced by BSEC-URTA?
The future is the road to China and goods coming from China. At this moment, we do not realize what an opportunity is for road transport in Romania, that we are here and we have these neighbors, and the fact that we have this Sea, linking to other neighbors. We are used to make money, we say easy, working with the West. But who goes to East now, even with the risks they have it, in the near future, it will prove that it worths. Those goods must be carried. If we are among the first, we’ll be in profit. Turks are everywhere, carrying. They are in Kazakhstan, on the border with China and if China opens up, they’ll be there. That’s what we must do.