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March 02, 2007 (the date of publication in Russian)

Alexei Chichkin

ZMEINYI: A ROCK OR AN ISLE?

The Romania-Ukraine territorial debate affects Russia's economic interests

According to Radio Bucharest, Voice of Ukraine and Moldova News, Romania's Foreign Ministry issued a statement, urging Ukraine to “practice restraint” in the issue of amendment of boundaries and interpretation of status of Zmeinyi ("serpent") Island in the Black Sea, and the adjacent aquatorium. Simultaneously, Ukraine was recommended to "avoid attempts of establishing artificial settlements on the territory which is a subject of territorial debate".

Zmeinyi Island, where the Government of Ukraine decided to develop a free economic zone, has got a complicated historical background. In various periods, it had been a part of the Ottoman Empire, Russian Empire, and Romania. In 1940, the isle, along with the whole territory of Southern Bessarabia, was included into the Odessa Region of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Meanwhile, the neighbor Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia was granted only a 20 km-broad access to the Danube.

In accordance to the basic Ukraine-Romania agreement of 1997, and to the Agreement on the State Border Regime, signed in 2003, Romania recognized Ukraine's territorial rights on Zmeinyi Island. Still, Bucharest had been insisting that the debated isle is not more than a rock, and therefore, it should not be considered as a part of land territory in amendment of boundaries.

Definitely, Romania is more interested in the aquatorium than the island itself. Several years ago, Ukraine's Chernomorneftegaz discovered large-scale deposits of oil and natural gas. These resources are deposited at the depth of 2.5 km, on the "Olympic" Platform of the Black Sea shelf. The two higher strata contain industrial amounts of gas, while high-quality oil is embedded in the underlying stratum. Specialists estimate the rate of return in over 45% in case of pipeline transportation to Romanian terminals. Besides, Romania started industrial exploitation of an oil deposit westward from Zmeinyi, and transporting the extracted oil along the sea bottom to Constança port. It is noteworthy that in 1980s, Nicolae Ceauşescu – despite protests from the USSR – signed a number of contracts on new exploration in the area with French corporations.

The negotiations on the status and on the geographic qualification of Zmeiny Island, held in early February 2007, also involving joint economic activities in the north-western sector of the Black Sea, closed with a zero result. Meanwhile, Romania boosted military activity along the Black Sea coast near the mouth of the Danube. Recently, the debate around Zmeinyi Island was conveyed to the United Nation's International Court in Hague.

It is noteworthy that the resolution of this debate in Romania's favor may affect Russia's economic interests, reducing the efficiency of the Burgas-Alexandrupolis pipeline. In case Romania acquires right for developing oil and gas areas in the mouth of the Danube, delivery of Black Sea oil to Central and Western Europe may appear more profitable than Caspian oil's transport across the Black Sea to the Aegean.

From this standpoint, it becomes clear why Romania and Hungary are hurrying to build a pipeline connection between Constança, Ploesti, Szeged, and Pecs, in order to connect it with the Pecs-Zagreb-Rijeka ("Adria") pipeline. The start of the construction project is scheduled for April 2007

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