Velina Tchakarova

Geopolitical and security policy expert. Director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy

Velina Tchakarova is an Austrian geopolitical and security policy expert.

She is Director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES). She is also instructor at the Real World Risk Institute (RWRI) led by Nassim Taleb, a best-selling author of Black Swan and Antifragile.

She has eleven years of professional experience and seven years of academic background in the fields of foreign, security, and defence policy. Her work includes research, consulting, lectures, and publications on global and regional geopolitical and geoeconomic trends and future scenarios for the public and private sector.

Three Seas Energy Projects: Addressing Challenges and Opportunities through More Geopolitical Clout

Video Transcription_

Hello dear ladies and gentlemen, dear guests, dear participants, and speakers.

We’ve heard today that we live in a highly interconnected world. And the buzzword of this century is connectivity.

So, I will take you on a journey in the next 10 to 15 minutes, where we will explore the future of this amazing and highly ambitious geo-political initiative called the Three Seas Initiative.

Let’s start the journey. So, as you have heard from the presentations today, the Three Seas Initiative is the most ambitious and boldest geopolitical and geoeconomics project of the future.

It pursues the very ambitious goal not to only create new opportunities for the 12 European Union members in the region to further integrate into the European Union, but it actually seeks to also create new opportunities for integration, so it’s no longer just about creating connectivity and infrastructure and energy corridors between the East and West but it’s also about the North and the South.

The second important point is that the European Union pursues the ambitious goal of becoming a coherent true political actor and in fact, this is the greatest incentive for the European Union to support the Three Seas Initiative in becoming a coherent, integrative part of the European Union family and even I would say, to go beyond that, by expanding the geoeconomics enlargement process.

And finally: the European Union has been the strongest, when the European Union members worked together with the European institutions, and this is another reason why I actually I am very optimistic about the future of this project.

However, there are also some hurdles. The European Union is not the only geopolitical actor in this region.

There are other external players trying to explore and penetrate this geoeconomics space and in that matter the presence of actors such as China and Russia is going to increase in the future.

So against this background, the European Union and the United States pursue in fact common geopolitical goals and coincide in their geoeconomics calculations, to prevent such presence from growing, to prevent external actors from penetrating this geoeconomics space. You all have heard about ambitious, geostrategic projects, such as the Belt and Road Initiative and specifically that Central and Eastern Europe play a large part of this project in Europe.

Another format that is very known here is the 17+1 format. Lithuania has become first member of this regional format, launched by China, which decided to abandon it, to exit and actually called on the European Union to move from 17 + 1 or 16 + 1 towards a more inclusive and more efficient 27 + 1 format, in dealing with China.

So, in the future, the major geopolitical question of how to deal with external actors, such as China, to some extent also Russia, whose presence has also been growing in the region, is going to be very decisive in how the European Union and then the United States will forge partnerships, alliances to actually support the Three Seas Initiative and in that matter, the Three Seas Initiative is the space where geopolitics and geopolitical needs meet in Europe.

But what about the future of this initiative? Where do you see the future of the Three Seas Initiative in 20 to 30 years from now?

In order to imagine this – because this morning we heard about the need for imagination – so, in order to imagine alternative futures for the Three Seas Initiative,

I’m going to explore the following scenarios with you. Scenarios that are based on alternative models of the future.

As you can see, I have developed 4 alternatives for the Three Seas Initiative and I’ll also present you with one gamechanger at the end.

So, let’s start with the battlefield of vision and connectivity. Let us all imagine a future by around 2040- 2050, where the Three Seas Initiative countries are doing so great, they are generating economic growth, they have in fact strong political stability and enjoy social vitality.

But at the very same time, countries such as China or Russia have also managed to successfully introduce alternative projects built in the fields of energy or infrastructure or other digital initiatives.

So, what it means is that by 2050, we might end up in a situation of an increased competition over visions, over connectivity initiatives, over the way of how we actually want to shape this space.

And competition is not a bad word, because in reality, this scenario would mean that the major players, such as the European Union with its institutions, and also Washington of course, the United States would actually feel the pressure to support, to engage and to actually do more.

But the most decisive component will be, in fact, who the victor of the 4th industrial revolution is going to be.

So, this battlefield will be decided by the way how the Three Seas Initiative countries will in fact adapt to digitalization and will actually capitalize on the 4th industrial revolution. So, it’s of course an open question mark.

Now let us imagine our world in which we have a scenario of the Three Seas Initiative countries in fact not being capable of generating economic growth.

Dealing with social tensions; being in a situation of political instability.

So of course, all of these amazing initiatives and projects are going to be challenged by a Dragon-bear that is still doing quite well, still being successful in pushing forward its own imagination about the rules of the game, about the way that they want to penetrate space.

So, it becomes a highly contested and fragmented space in which the prospects for success for the Three Seas Initiative are actually doomed to fall.

And then of course there is a third scenario. Finally, the Trimarium is the successful formula, the one that its predecessor, the Intermarium, could not achieve 100 years ago.

What kind of situation or scenario does that mean? A scenario in which the Three Seas Initiative countries are generating economic growth, are pushing forward through bilateral and multilateral initiatives, are receiving support from European institutions, American investors and at the very same time, the Dragon-bear is split, is witnessing structural issues, is not able to be involved with the region or to actually propose and win the hearts and minds of Central and Eastern European countries.

This of course is a best-case scenario for our region in the period of 2040-2050.

But then there is also a worst case scenario. One – that is determined by a doomsday prognosis considering both, on the one side the Central Eastern European countries in a sense that they are not able to produce any further economic growth, are split through political, social tensions and at the very same time there’s also a weak Dragon-bear operating on the ground.

Of course, there emerges a grey, diffused space, a porous world in which every country acts only for itself. No block can actually achieve the upper hand to actually win, so to say in this diffused world, disinformation campaigns, a kind of a hybrid warfare fought and is basically being established in this huge space. A worst case scenario is bad news to you – we don’t want to have such a scenario in the future. What about the game changer?

Now, imagine a world in which there is a new bifurcation of the global system and at the top of our global affairs system, there’s a new, real systemic rivalry between the United States and China.

One, that encompasses all relevant socio-economic networks, the way we know them.

That means, the US-dominated and the US-led international, organisational leverage that was left after the collapse of the Soviet Union… but also the supremacy of the West.

In all these relevant networks is being daily challenged by China. In this bifurcation there’s a big risk that the Central and Eastern European region becomes a victim of a new bipolarisation of international relations in a sense that the two systemic rivals decide to split the region once again.

This would be a game changer we don’t want to see, because this would also mean isolation in a sense, that a new Iron Curtain is being erected along NATO’s eastern flank and the two parts of the region have to exist in an isolated way once again.

So, these are alternative futures and as it was said in the morning, keep in mind that the bricks that have been used to erect walls, and have also been used to build bridges, and when I speak about bridges I mean one specific actor, who is still a little bit cautious to participate actively in this project. This is Austria.

Now Austria takes – and we are back in the now when I talk about Austria. Of course, this is a country that occupies a very unique position.

It hasn’t been a member of the Warsaw Pact or of Yugoslavia, it is not a NATO member and yet it sees and perceives itself as a bridge builder so to say, between the West and the East, and right now with this very ambitious geopolitical and geoeconomics project of the Three Seas Initiative, Austria can also build bridges between the North and the South.

So, where do I see the role of Austria in this project? First and foremost, it is just a matter of time for Austria to decide to participate more actively.

Second – they are certain experiences and certain multiplayer effects that Austria could bring to the table by reaching out to European institutions, by reaching out to stakeholders that can get interested in the project.

And thirdly, of course one might say: Austria could also be also a spoiler – that is true, however energy interests are not everything that determines the Three Seas Initiative, and Austria does realize that the energy interests of its neighbours and mostly of course, direct neighbours in Central Europe need to be pursued equally, as it is the case with the Austrian interest.

So, in that matter once again, Austria will not be a free rider, Austria will contribute, and it is a question of time to do the right thing. Thank you very much.

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