Medvedev’s remarks on Armenia and connectivity

Medvedev’s remarks on Armenia and connectivity

What do Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania have in common?

They are all members of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, (BSEC) which was established in 1992. The BSEC does not serve its purpose well, if you ask me. Its member states’ economies differ in their structure and levels of development.

Their only common denominator is that none of them are connected, not to each other, and not to the world. This is true for Central Asian countries as well. I’ve lately been thinking about the importance of connectivity for regional economic and social transformation.

That, I believe, is what the Black Sea region needs as well. So you will understand that I was pleased to hear President Dmitry Medvedev’s remarks on the need to build up the physical and virtual infrastructure of Armenia. That is truly the country where dialogue on connectivity should start.

Let me start by underlining President Medvedev’s remarks. When asked about Russian investment plans in Armenia in October 2011, he said:

“We realize how important infrastructure projects are to our Armenian friends – both real and virtual infrastructure. … We hope that through our joint efforts and with the help of other countries, we will help Armenia build a more modern and perhaps even completely new communications system.”
There are three aspects outlining a new regional cooperation framework in these comments.

First, the president is talking about projects connecting Armenia internally and externally. A very good idea. Second, Russia owns the railway system in Armenia, so all infrastructure projects for Armenia have to be planned in Moscow. That means that Mr. Medvedev is not just talking, he actually has the capacity to deliver. Even more significant. Third, he talks about the involvement of other countries.

 Connecting Armenia to the region and the world should be a policy priority for Turkey as well. For Turkey, a strong land connection between Armenia and Azerbaijan would mean access to the Russian market and beyond. Container trains today could mean pipelines tomorrow. Definitely a great idea.

Connectivity is a game changer in regional economic and social transformation. In the past, only rivers could bring inland connectivity. The United States was very fortunate in that regard. Today, connectivity requires infrastructure: roads, railway networks, airports, seaports, telecommunication facilities.

These are meticulously designed transport corridors. Now, Turkey has tremendous problems finding any of these to its north. We need to design intermodal transport networks in the Black Sea region to pave the way for more interaction and fully deploy our capabilities across our neighborhood. Economies change through interaction.

Changing a country’s basket of consumption goods is the starting point of changing its economic structure. And when you export goods, you also start exporting industries. So looking across the Black Sea region, I think that our different, and thereby complementary, economic structures are really a blessing.

As a naive economist, I strongly believe that we are living in an age in which we can create a more conducive atmosphere by connecting communities through joint welfare-enhancing projects. Whether they are simmering or frozen, all conflicts can be dealt with in a more conducive atmosphere. Connectivity is good.