Intermarium Alliance – Will the idea become reality?
Hot discussions have erupted on social networks around the century-old idea put forward by Jozef Pilsudski, president of Poland at the time, of establishing the Intermarium Confederation. Modern media have fitted the idea into the current information context, citing the new Polish president. UNIAN has gathered expert opinions on the prospects of such project.
"I am considering the idea of creating a partnership bloc stretching from the Baltic to the Black and the Adriatic seas. The state is strong when it is surrounded by allies - is also an element of increasing strength,” said newly elected President of Poland Andrzej Duda last week in an interview with Polska Agencja Prasowa.
Actually, Miedzymorze, which means "Intersea" or "Between-seas," later rendered into Latin as "Intermarium”, was an idea, pursued after World War I by Polish leader Jozef Pilsudski, for a (con)federation, under Poland's aegis of Central and Eastern European States. The ambitious plan provided that the confederation of states would be a successor to the multinational and multicultural traditions of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a re-creation of a Superpower, which would unite countries between the Baltic, the Adriatic and the Black Sea, allowing them to avoid the dominance of Germany, or (at the time) Russia.
However, Poland’s political circles and the country’s potential allies mostly opposed the plan. Not to mention the fact that no one would expect support for the idea from the major geopolitical players in postwar Europe (except France, which has actually backed the project). But the idea has not sunk into oblivion. From time to time, the discussions were revived by all potential participants (in different years and in different interpretations).
For example, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus proposed the idea of creating a Baltic-Black Sea oil reservoir. The project was intended to connect the Ukrainian Crimea to Estonian oil and gas pipes, allowing the newly independent states to exchange energy freely, thus reducing dependence on oil and gas supplies from Russia. But again, the idea has failed. Firstly, because there was simply no money for this project. Secondly, potential members have seen their participation differently, while the Baltic states have totally ignored the idea. Besides, the war was pre-brewing in the Balkans brewing ...
As a result, the discussions have only come to one common denominator – the idea to develop the Baltic-Black Sea Union as a political alliance of a number of post-Soviet countries. In addition, during the same period, the Visegrad Group was established in Central Europe, consisting of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Member states pledged to seek integration into the European structures. The expert community in post-Soviet states at once conceived the idea of uniting the Visegrad group with the Baltic-Black Sea Union(which had not even been formed at the time). But further discussions stayed behind the main political scenes.
In 2004, all members of the Visegrad Group have become EU members, but, nevertheless, the project "Intermarium" did not disappear. Polish conservatives, including Andrzej Duda, never concealed their commitment to this idea. It is worth noting that the current interpretation of Intermarium is quite unlikely the revival of Rzeczpospolita, which would give Poland hopes to become a major player in the region (formally, to squeeze in between the EU (Germany) and Russia), although some experts believe this is exactly the case. As a tool to contain the threat from the East, this interpretation seems to be more viable, but the project is difficult to develop for a number of reasons.
Shaky economic ground
Everyone should understand that Intermarium "is no substitute for either NATO or the EU," just as it is no substitute for Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic prospects”, according to Oleksiy Garan’
"The idea of Baltic-Black Sea Union is like an additional form of integration: the cooperation of the states, which have already joined NATO and the EU, with countries such as Ukraine and Moldova, who have only signed the Association Agreement," said Garan’.
"Creating a bloc of states from the Baltic to the Black Sea cannot be seen as an alternative to NATO. Rather it is about creating something like the Visegrad Four. We are talking about a semi-formal structure," says Oleksiy Melnyk, co-director of programs on foreign policy and international security at the Razumkov Center, echoing Garan’s opinion.
According to Melnyk, it looks like a natural formation, different from integration projects, periodically initiated by Russia, which literally forces its "allies" to be part of them. As a result, any alliance is built around one dominant state - the Russian Federation. At the same time, other alliances are at least based on common interests and, what is more important, on common values, "because interests may vary, while the values should remain unchanged". "In such alliances the equality of all members is observed, no matter how large country is geographically, no matter its population or GDP. In this case, the idea of Intermarium is based on common interests, values, while geographic proximity facilitates the realization of this project,” says Melnyk.
But to bring this idea to life, even if both the EU members and aspiring states are to compose the alliance, a number of economic requirements must be met. For example, all allies should unite in one collaborative approach to economic and customs policies. This is quite a hard task today, as the economic conditions in some potential participants of such union are rather poor.
In 2010, experts estimated that in such hypothetical association, combined GDP of Ukraine and Belarus would only amount to 35% (while the population share would be at 56%). Poland, alone, would provide 58 % of total GDP (with a 38% share of population). Lithuania and Latvia would give a combined GDP of 7%, with the 10% share of population.
Everyone has own interest
Yes, it is possible that in the future, "Intermarium" would be the end point for the so-called "Silk Road" and strengthen the economies of its member states, due to a favorable geopolitical location, extensive logistics network, and combined industrial and agricultural potential. In reality of today the Baltic states and Poland cannot take on their shoulders the entire weight of the "outsiders", Ukraine in particular, given the current Kyiv’s problems - the gas issue, the external debt and the war in the east.
The creation of this geopolitical bloc is hampered by the fact that the states with no direct borders with Russia see no need for any new integration projects, not to mention that Russia still remains a source of energy and raw materials for many Central European countries.
Besides, there are many contradictions between the new EU members in Eastern and Central Europe, despite plenty of common interests. "Poland has an uneasy relationship with Lithuania. Interests of the Baltic countries, to some extent, differ from those of Central European countries. We know that some Central European states, such as Hungary, play solo and their interests do not always coincide with the interests of those countries which have been quite critical toward Russia," explains the head of Penta Center for Applied Political Studies, political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko.
In turn, the director of the Center for Civil Society Studies, a political analyst Vitaly Kulik believes that the idea of creating Intermarium can become popular at the times of crisis of such institutions as the OSCE, the EU and NATO. "The Baltic states see that they can get neither military nor political-military help from the EU against the possible threat from Russia. Therefore, the efforts of cooperation of the countries that have a powerful enough army, the ability to repel aggression, especially with Ukraine and Poland, are their perspective," he said.
According to the expert, Intermarium may be interesting for Moldova in this respect, while Belarus, which is an important link in the Baltic-Black Sea chain, is a problem, given the utter dependence of Minsk on Moscow. "Belarus is required to be part of the system. But while Lukashenko is in power, it is not worth speaking about any changes in the country’s approach to foreign policy,” said Vitaly Kulik.
At the same time, Ukraine should forget about its far-reaching plans on Intermarium as far as its conflict with Russia remains in a hot phase, while the fight against corruption and implementation of reforms seem to have been put on a back burner.
The issue of actually creating Intermarium will only then arise, when this idea gains support of broader social groups and becomes one of the political trends in all potential member states. Then such union could pull the Eastern European countries closer to joining the EU. For example, it could promote transformation of the Eastern Partnership into a new integration project.
Intermarium: Seeking mechanisms of realization
To make Intermarium a real deterrent of threats coming from the East, unification of military forces, creation of joint military units and synchronization of military doctrines of the member states are needed. There is only one project today that looks promising – setting up LITPOLUKRBRIG, joint Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian military brigade. “Establishing such brigade is one of the tools for creating this Bloc. Thus is the right format for trying out military cooperation out in the field, without a political component, says OLeksiy Melnyk.
In turn, Fesenko believes it a symbolic act: “For Ukraine it (joint military force, approbation of NATO standards at least at the brigade level) is important. But it’s also important to understand that this brigade cannot engage in fighting in eastern Ukraine. Still, it is possible to use it in peacekeeping missions under the UN or NATO mandate, but its functions will be limited.”
Vitaly Kulik partially shares this opinion, noting that LITPOLUKRBRIG might become a prototype of joint military forces of Intermarium member states if it operates in full swing and is properly maintained and supported. “But it’s a distant perspective,” stresses the political scientist.
Moreover, according to him, not only economic cooperation and synchronized military policies of the member states are needed to launch the project, but also another sponsor from outside the region, “which can only be the United States”. Although the US-led NATO is boosting up its presence in Eastern Europe, developing its Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or spearhead, Ukraine remains beyond the area of special concern. George Friedman, head of Stratfor private intelligence and forecasting company, has voiced the idea of creating Intermarium back in February, however the message has yet to conquer the minds of US congressmen.
Until the US is ripe for forming such Alliance, it’s too early to seriously consider viability of this integration,” says Kulik.
Only new threats may force major geopolitical players reconsider the Intermarium project, such as terrorism and the spread of civil conflicts throughout Eurasia.
Tatiana Urbanskaya, Kostyantyn Honcharov