The Baltic-Black Sea Union: from Theory to Practice
The project of the Baltic-Black Sea Union (Baltic-Black Sea Axis or Intermarium) has a long history and until recently could be considered a historical concept of interest only to researchers of geopolitical thought of the past. But now the idea, which originated more than a century ago, is gaining new meaning and may well become the future of many Eastern European states.
The fate of the states located in Eastern Europe between the Black and Baltic Seas has been different over the past 30 years since the end of the Cold War. Most became members of NATO, finding themselves under the protection of the United States and other Western powers. Others, such as Belarus, have found themselves under the full control of Russia. At the same time, Ukraine, while remaining outside of NATO, continues to resist Russia's attempts to bring it back under its control.
Russia's aggression against Ukraine has shown the following:
- Russian imperialism and revanchism have not gone away;
- Russia seeks to re-establish its control over all states that were formerly under the control of the USSR;
- Russia considers the "Intermarium" territories to be a zone of its exclusive geopolitical interests and declares this at every opportunity.
All of this is forcing the countries located in Eastern Europe between the Black and Baltic Seas, which were previously subordinate to the USSR, to adapt to the new realities.
Between the West and the East
Russia's aggression against Ukraine has become a serious challenge for countries such as Poland or Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. On the one hand, they are members of NATO, which means they belong to the collective security system, which is chaired by the United States. Theoretically, this should be the best safeguard against any aggressive plans against these states, because the key idea of NATO is that an attack on one member is an attack on all. This includes the United States and other nuclear powers.
On the other hand, the countries of Eastern Europe are well aware that Russia's aggression against Ukraine is not an accident or an isolated episode. This is part of a geostrategic line that was declared by the official Kremlin in 2021 (on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine) in the so-called "NATO Ultimatum". The main content of this document is a demand for NATO to "get out" of the territories included in the Alliance after the collapse of the USSR. Of course, this means that NATO must also withdraw from the territory of Poland, the Czech Republic, or Lithuania. And NATO's withdrawal from these territories will be the beginning of the Russian Federation's "entry" there.
Thus, before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia declared that it wanted to regain control of everything that the USSR controlled in the 1980s. And this signal was very well understood in Poland or the Baltic states. Therefore, it is not surprising that after the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, these states took the most pro-Ukrainian position, providing comprehensive assistance to Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression. Ukraine's Eastern European allies realized that they were next in line for Russian aggression and wanted to avoid such a development.
Who Does NATO protect?
Why are NATO member states so concerned about their own security? Shouldn't they feel protected? At the same time, Poland, on the one hand, is helping Ukraine, and on the other hand, is investing huge amounts of money in rearming its own army, hoping to have one of the most powerful armies in Europe in a short period of time.
Theoretically, NATO is the best guarantee of security, because who would want to compete with the US army in the modern world? But there are many nuances that affect the real meaning of the Alliance. NATO itself is a product of the Cold War, when the democratic states of the "West" united to jointly respond to the threat of totalitarian communists. At that time, the question of whether NATO states would fight for each other did not arise, because they were well aware of the existence of common threats. In today's world, things are not so simple.
Many politicians in Western European countries do not believe that Russia is a threat to them. Today's Russia, despite its aggressive imperialism, does not seem to be a worldview alternative for the West. There has long been no communism or planned economy there, and until recently they traded well with European powers.
On the other hand, what can be considered an attack on NATO? Recently, Russian missiles and Belarusian helicopters flew into Polish airspace. At the time, this did not lead to any consequences. What other forms of hybrid aggression could the Russian Federation try against NATO? Obviously, there could be many such attempts.
Therefore, it is much better to keep Russian aggressors as far away as possible, without creating temptations for them to test NATO's effectiveness. It is around this idea that a coalition of support for Ukraine, which includes a number of Eastern European countries, has been formed: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
The Scandinavian states, which are either longtime NATO members, new members, or continuing to join the Alliance, are quite close to them: Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. All of these countries are united by the fact that they do not just declare support for Ukraine, but provide it in a very serious way. In fact, they are forming a kind of defense coalition united by their assistance to Ukraine. It is clear that this assistance is not only a moral choice, but also an understanding of their own interests.
Post-NATO or NATO+
It is possible that a new alliance will be formed around Ukraine, which could include both NATO and non-NATO members but with common security interests. A number of Eastern European states between the Black and Baltic Seas have distinct common interests:
- Countering Russian imperialism;
- Consolidation of efforts to form a joint military force;
- Guaranteeing stability in the region.
These questions can be answered in different ways - not only by forming some kind of "alternative to NATO." Rather, this format can be called NATO+: states are not obliged to directly defend each other, but can cooperate in terms of joint production of military equipment, conducting exercises, or sharing technology and intelligence.
And this is something that already exists in practice and does not require any special consolidation at the level of treaties. Apparently, everything will continue to move in this vein for the time being, but it is clear that such alliances have considerable potential.