Once again, at the recent summit of the Three Seas Initiative held in Ljubljana, Italy was not present, except for Ambassador Paolo Trichilo. The Three Seas Initiative is a summit of great importance, especially given the fact that the risk that Italy could run from international exclusion on several fronts is still unclear to many. Furthermore, this meeting, in also discussing the Adriatic Sea, cannot fail to cause alarm within the Italian government and in general for Italian strategy in Europe and in the Mediterranean.
The importance of the project is clear from its name, the Three Seas Initiative, which indicates the strategic union of the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea. It is a plan with fundamental importance. The initiatve does not only have strong interest from Poland, who is always eager to reconnect to Eastern Europe and the whole Balkan area, but also (and most importantly) from the United States.
The US knows perfectly well that here, they can create a ‘belt’ that, at one end keeps Russia out of Eastern Europe, and at the other end, roots itself in the area of German economic and political influence. The area of ‘Middle Europe’ appeals to Washington, and to Donald Trump himself and his strategists. They can use the Visegrad group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia) and the Three Seas Initiative as a means physically to separate the EU and Russia, to influence German interests, and lead to the creation of a ‘belt’ connecting the two Seas on the eastern front of Nato: the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. The latter has recently become a hot topic due to Nato’s annual ‘Baltops’ naval exercises in the Baltic.
On this premise, we can understand the reason why the Three Seas represents an initiative that is undervalued in Europe – particularly in Italy, a country that too often forgets the role that Eastern Europe, especially the Balkans, can have on its continental strategy. It is right to focus on central Western Europe and the Mediterranean, but it is risky to underestimate a region close to Italy, which connects Russian gas, energy interests in the Adriatic, the relationship with Balkan neighbours and the policies of Germany and the United States, both vital partners of Rome. Furthermore, in the competition for Eastern Europe, Washington seems to have placed the Adriatic among the priorities on its strategic agenda: starting with gas, which unites it physically and ideologically to the northern seas.
For Italy, understanding the essence of the Three Seas Initiative is fundamental, since Eastern Europe appears to be an increasingly important pawn on the European chessboard for both US and German plans. Also, being excluded from a grand plan that includes a sea that is also Italy’s (the Adriatic) raises questions and must be a cause for alarm. Alarm from an economic point of view, because if the United States focuses on the eastern side of this sea it will actually be investing in Italy’s direct competitors. Alarm from a political point of view, because if Italy is no longer the focus of the Adriatic, it is certainly not the focus of the Balkans, where Germany is already working on pulling ahead as a third power after Russia and the United States.
It also means having competitors on another front: the anti-EU axis with the United States. In Rome’s challenge to the constraints of Brussels and the Franco-German alliance, it is clear that the support of external powers is needed, and if this cannot be Russia or China, the only solution is America, which apparently has other plans for part of Europe to the east of the old Iron Curtain. That could also make Italy pay the price for its naturally positive relations with Russia, which certainly should not be forgotten.
It is no coincidence that gas was one of the key points at the Ljubljana summit. The twelve countries that make up the Three Seas Initiative, with the blessing of the US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, have in fact given the go-ahead to a series of projects with the precise objective of greater autonomy for the Eastern partners from Moscow’s ‘blue gold’.
Together with some infrastructure projects also relevant to Nato, funds have been released for methane pipelines and regasification plants. These include one built in Poland, which follows in the footsteps of the Croatian one in Veglia, a few kilometres from Trieste. This is a system of ports, railways, motorways and pipelines that actually represents the American response to Moscow (with all its geographical limits) but also to its response to China and its ‘17 + 1’ initiative, which is the platform for dialogue between Beijing and 17 countries of Eastern Europe.
Projects where the United States wants to confirm what has always been the mantra of NATO: America inside, Russia outside, Germany subdued
Germany, however, was invited to the summit in Slovenia with full honours, a sign that Eastern European countries struggle to do anything without seeking German support. Indeed, as some point out, it seems that it was the guest invitation to the Ljubljana summit extended to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier which annoyed the White House to such an extent that Trump, guest in 2017 in Poland, was not in Slovenia despite the dates coinciding with the celebrations for the Normandy landings.
That said, Germany knows perfectly well that this initiative is likely to be a severe blow to its Eastern policies, to the point that a source in Berlin has already said that they are ready to buy American liquefied gas to quell Donald’s anger about the North Stream 2 Russian pipeline, which threatens to put into question the German regasification plants in the North.
And Italy? Absent. Absent both because it is not part of the Three Seas Initiative, and because it has not implemented a policy towards the east that would have allowed it to establish itself in an area which is very close to it and especially strategic. If Germany’s leader is invited to participate and Italy’s is not, something is definitely not going the right way, since it is an initiative that should be made to exclude Berlin. Instead, it is excluding them, and above all, the Adriatic.