On the 29-30th of September Europe-Georgia Institute, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom South Caucasus and Strategic Dialogue Center organized the Future of the Black Sea Region Conference (FLEECE). The conference lasted for two days. On the first day international experts and their colleagues from Georgia discussed the challenges and perspectives of Black Sea Region. On the second day the junior fellows of FLEECE, who participated in the mentorship program presented the Opinion Papers written by them. Additionally to this, the second day and the conference was finalized with the online interview with the former Ambassador of the US in Georgia – Ian C. Kelly.

Day 1 – International and Local Experts
Experts both from Georgia and other countries participated in the conference in the hybrid mode – some of them attended it in person, while others participated via the Zoom platform. There were the following panels:

Black Sea in European Security Context – Tengiz Pkhaladze (Moderator) (Georgia), Jelger Groeneveld (Netherlands), Giorgi Badridze (Georgia), Velizar Shalamanov (Bulgaria), Ioannis N. Grigoriadis (Greece).

Mr. Shalamanov started discussion about Black Sea initiatives that occurred since the 1990s. He analyzed both successful and failed attempts of such initiatives. Later he discussed the policy of different regional and international actors in the Black Sea area and future perspectives of the region. Mr. Groeneveld discussed generally the attitudes of the Netherlands towards the EU and its interests in the Black Sea region. Mr. Grigoriadis’s speach was dedicated to patterns of activity of Germany and the US in our region. Giorgi Badridze discussed the perspectives and challenges of Association Trio – Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, leading countries in Eastern Partnership aspiring for Euro-Atlantic integration. The Q&A session was mostly about the necessity of containing Russia, connections of some Western politicians with Russia, economic dependence on the Kremlin and potential impact of the outcome of German elections on the attitudes of Berlin towards the NATO membership of Georgia and Ukraine.

EU/NATO Policies in the Region:
George Melashvili (Moderator) (Georgia), John DiPirro (United States), Roman Jakič (Slovenia), William Townsend (Great Britain), Martin Angeby (Sweden), Tony van der Togt (Netherlands)

Mr. Dipirro started discussion mostly about the democratic development of Georgia and increasing focus on a citizen, as the cornerstone and main pillar of democratic society. He also talked about the significance of increasing ties between the countries of Black Sea region – namely the ones with Euro-Atlantic aspirations. Mr. Townsend continued discussion about the empowerment of liberals in the region. He mentioned the success of the Free Democratic Party of Germany as inspiration for everyone. Later he highlighted the significance of the idea of compromise. He stated that for upcoming elections in Georgia the West is keeping an eye on both sides. Martin Angeby stressed the importance of more inclusiveness as essential for democratic development of the country. At the same time he talked about the importance of equality, including gender equality in politics. Tony van der Togt discussed the European aspirations of members of Association Trio – Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. He stated, that despite the fact that those countries are leaders in Eastern Partnership, still there is a lot of work to do and that this work can take at least a generation until full integration. That’s why he suggested maintaining expectations at a lower level and not to exaggerate them too much. He stressed on the importance of values too. Mr. Togt stated that a lot of things can be done on the way of Euro-integration with the tools that are present at the moment. Mr. Jakič mostly talked about Slovenia as an example of a small country being integrated in Euro-Atlantic structures. The Q&A session was mostly dedicated to the importance of the Black Sea Region for the West and the ways it can become even more important for it.

Democratic Development in Black Sea Region:
Shamil Shugaev (Moderator) (Georgia), Oleksiy Melnyk (Ukraine), Alex Petriashvili (Georgia), Yordan Bozhilov (Bulgaria), Dimitrios Triantaphyllou (Greece).

Mr. Melnyk started discussion of this panel with the confrontation between two models – Democratic and Authoritarian ones and their clash in Black Sea Region. He also talked about the reality, when the existence of threat leads to people’s demand for a strong hand – making them accept trade off between security and liberty, in the end – losing both of them. He also talked about the success of Ukraine as a threat for Putin’s authoritarian regime. Oleksyi Melnyk highlighted the importance of cooperation between those Black Sea actors which have things in common and underlined the significance of Crimean Platform in this regard. Dimitrios Triantaphyllou discussed the role of Turkey and the importance of its self-identification, which is important for clarifying its impact on the region. Mr. Bozhilov talked about the connection between Democracy and Security. He stated that Security is not defined only in Geographic terms and that there should be a much broader understanding of it. He highlighted the importance of resilience – resilience of democracy via building strong institutions and creating faith by people in those institutions. Mr. Petriashvili talked about internal challenges of Georgia – manoeuvres of Georgian Dream, which on the one hand pretends to be pro-Western, but in reality managed to de-rail Georgia from Western priorities – getting the country closer to the edge falling down and becoming the backyard of the Russian Federation again. He mentioned strategic projects that failed during the rule of Georgian Dream – namely Anaklia deep-sea port and Namakhvani HPP.

Day 2 – Presentation of Opinion Papers and the interview with the former US Ambassador to Georgia – Ian C. Kelly
Second day was dedicated to the Opinion Papers of the fellows of FLEECE. There were two panels with eight speakers from the same number of groups. The speakers presented the papers on the following topics:

First Panel
The Channel of Istanbul
Russian Occupation – Obstacle for Economic Development
Georgian Military System
Terrorism and Georgia

Second Panel
Georgia’s Security Policy – Challenges
Georgia and North Caucasus
Hybrid Warfare in Regional Context of Black Sea
Anaklia Port

At the end of the day there was an online interview led by the President of Europe-Georgia Institute – George Melashvili with the former Ambassador of the US – Ian C. Kelly. There was a discussion about the role of Georgia in Black Sea Region context, challenges and perspectives of it. In the end Mr. Kelly addressed the audience – young leaders of the future and encouraged them to participate more intensively in the process of building democracy in Georgia.

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