Three Seas Initiative in Riga for Common Ground against Russia

PeopleOther ♦ Published: June 20, 2022; 22:08 ♦ (Vindobona)

The Three Seas Initiative met in Riga. Austria and eleven other Central Eastern European countries accepted Ukraine as a member of the Three Seas Initiative at the Presidential Summit in Riga. Austrian President Van der Bellen traveled to Riga and appealed for unity against Russia.

This year's Three Seas Initiative Summit was held in Riga, Latvia. Austria was also represented. / Picture: © Latvian and Austrian crossed flags by Vindobona

The President of Latvia, Egils Levits, invited the presidents and high-ranking officials of the member states of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI), as well as representatives of the strategic partners of the initiative - the United States, Germany, and the European Commission - to discuss current priorities and plans in the closed session.

At the press conference, it was emphasized that the main themes of the Summit were the potential for further development of the Initiative, as well as the strategic role of the 3SI region in supporting Ukraine both during the war and taking into account Ukraine's reconstruction prospects.

Discussions at the summit centered on the involvement of the initiative's strategic partners, building cooperation among 3SI member states, openness to cooperative efforts with like-minded regional and global partners, including the participation of the United Kingdom and Japan, and intergovernmental cooperation, as well as prospects for enhancing the initiative's priorities.

For the President of Latvia, the initiative is a growth region as "the economies of the initiative are growing faster than in Europe." Therefore there is a need to promote further development in the three core areas of the initiative: Energy, Transportation and Digitalization, according to the President of Latvia.

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen also traveled to Riga and attended the summit.

Ukraine and the initiative

A key theme of the summit was Ukraine's participation in the initiative. The Member states of the initiative "unanimously supported Ukraine's struggle for sovereignty and freedom."

According to the press conference, Ukraine will be closer to the European Union, with the Three Seas Initiative. "We started a close cooperation with Ukraine in the framework of the Three Seas Initiative ", stressed the President of Latvia, Egils Levits.

In his video address, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine, pointed out how the Three Seas Initiative has supported Ukraine and confirmed Ukraine's interest in becoming an active member of the initiative.

"The countries of the Three Seas Initiative connect us with the rest of the world," President Zelenskyy said in his live speech.

Conversely, he said, Ukraine's network of gas pipelines "can satisfy the needs of all the states of the Three Seas Initiative." Moreover, Ukraine could become the transport hub for the region stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea and the Adriatic, Volodymyr Zelenskyy highlighted, for example, the railroad line between Warsaw and Kyiv or the north-south highway "Via Carpathia".

Developing new ties with other countries

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also delivered video speeches and attended the Summit online.

The 3SI member states also welcomed the announced significant financial support from the U.S. to the 3SI Investment Fund.

At the Summit, all parties discussed the importance of promoting cohesion among the countries in the region and attracting further investment. In that context, Levits expressed that "I am particularly pleased with the U.S.'s commitment to advancing this theme, and today's announcement of an additional financial contribution to the 3SI Investment Fund that demonstrates U.S. interest in the region and our growing transatlantic ties."

Austrian President Van der Bellen at the 3SI Summit

At a presidential summit in the Latvian capital Riga, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen also attended the summit of the Three Seas Initiative. "I think it is a good initiative. Ukraine needs support on all lines," President Van der Bellen stressed at the summit.

President Van der Bellen described Ukraine's inclusion in the initiative as a "parallel action" to the planned granting of EU candidate status. Ukraine needs "signals of belonging to Europe", the Federal President underlined. He was in Riga because it was "always exciting" to have contact with a larger number of counterparts, "to see what the mood is, what interests are being articulated."

"Austria has the strongest interest in maintaining common ground in solving the issues at hand," Alexander Van der Bellen said. In this regard, he drew a comparison to the pandemic, where EU states had also jointly procured vaccines, for example.

"Now we are facing similar issues in all questions of energy supply, the exit from Russian oil and Russian gas." Precisely because some states find it easier to exit than others, he said, it is "important to see what common lines we can take here." In the run-up to the summit, he had already stressed that the states in the initiative "must not allow themselves to be divided."

Asked whether the U.S. and its Eastern European partners had been more far-sighted than, say, Germany and Austria about Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, President Van der Bellen replied that he was among all those "who, given the relations between Russia and Austria, which is also historically conditioned, simply did not think this war of aggression was possible."

The President of Austria explained his understanding of the Baltic States, Finland and Sweden for which the Russian invasion of Ukraine has a different weight, due to the history of the Russian Tsarist Empire and the immediate neighborhood with Russia. Especially since Russian President Vladimir Putin lets aggressive tones in the media.

However, Austria is "in a privileged situation simply because of geography, and you can't change geography," the president added.

Van der Bellen also met bilaterally with Poland's President, Andrzej Duda, Estonia's President, Alar Karids, and Bulgaria's President, Rumen Radev, after the summit. A brief meeting was held with the Latvian host, Egils Levits, and with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The Three Seas Initiative

The initiative was founded after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 to reduce the region's dependence on Russia in the transport and energy sectors. Specifically, this was to be achieved, for example, through the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals in Poland and Croatia.

At the time, the initiative was seen as particularly directed against the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline operated by Germany and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a video message at the summit that the Ukraine war had made the initiative's goals "a necessity." Energy supplies need to be diversified because of the oil embargo on Russia, better roads are needed for NATO troop deployments, and also for grain exports from Ukraine, he said.

3SI Three Seas Initiative

Presidential Chancellery of Austria