Ukraine faces a mounting challenge from the East while suffering from a fundamental security vacuum. The country is not embedded in international organizations able to help Kyiv secure the Ukrainian state’s territorial integrity and political sovereignty. What other options than the distant prospect of NATO membership does Ukraine have to fill this vacuum today? The only feasible solution with at least some chance of being realized is to revive an old Polish plan known as Intermarium—a union of the lands between the seas.
The original early-twentieth-century idea of Intermarium envisaged a federation or confederation of the states between the Baltic and Black Seas. Today, the plan would imply an entente cordiale or mutual-aid pact among the countries in this region that perceive Moscow as a threat to their national sovereignty, economic viability, and social stability. Such an alliance should unambiguously announce to the Kremlin its member countries’ willingness to actively and multifariously assist each other in their hitherto bilateral conflicts with Russia.
The Intermarium concept reappeared in Central and Eastern European political and intellectual discourse after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Communist bloc. The plan has its deepest roots in Poland and has been most explicitly promoted by former Polish president Lech Kaczyński and current President Andrzej Duda.
Today, such an anti-imperial alliance should include all those countries of Europe that are ready to commit to some degree of military and other cooperation in confronting Moscow’s adventurist foreign policies. Most of these states have already been affected to one degree or another by Russian hot or cold wars and attacks in the fields of information, trade, and cyberspace.
Such a new coalition of the willing may include both members and nonmembers of the EU and NATO in Eastern and Southern Europe as well as Western Asia. The bloc’s mutual-assistance obligations could remain below the level of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states that an attack on one NATO ally is an attack on all, yet may be far more robust than those of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
A modern-day Intermarium could even go beyond the former Soviet bloc, as Ankara’s relations with Moscow are now affected by tensions reminiscent of those experienced in many Eastern European capitals. The alliance could thus include most or even all countries from the town of Narva in the north to the city of Poti on the Black Sea’s eastern coast: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Turkey, and Georgia.
The bloc might also include such countries as Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as additional states in the Western Balkans or Southern Caucasus. Many politicians in these countries too perceive Russia as a threat, have memories of anti-imperial resistance against Moscow’s expansionism, or may be motivated to support Kyiv, Chişinău, and Tbilisi in their disputes with the Kremlin over their territory and sovereignty.
The primary task of the alliance would be to send a clear message not just to Russia’s power holders but to its entire population. An Intermarium should signal to the Russian nation that every conflict in which Moscow is currently involved or that it may want to start in the future will grow into a multilateral confrontation with a group of allies rather than weak individual countries.
Intermarium’s member states could support each other in a number of ways. They could coordinate on trade and other economic and financial sanctions and blockades against Russia’s state, companies, and elite. They could cooperate through joint diplomatic efforts against Moscow within such organizations as the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the World Trade Organization.
Members could offer reciprocal assistance with military, transportation, communication, and other technology needed to better resist Moscow’s hybrid war strategies. They could provide mutual logistical support for military defense, economic sanctions, trade barriers, and other anti-Kremlin measures.
Allies could systematically share their military, economic, political, social, and other intelligence, data, analysis, and research related to Russia, and they could combine their counterpropaganda measures for mass and specialized media dealing with Russia-related topics. Member states could also increase exchanges of volunteer troops, security personnel, military advisers, communication experts, medical staff, social scientists, and arms engineers.
Partly, an informal Intermarium is already evolving and—acknowledged or not—is already becoming a problem for Moscow. Arguably, it came into being during the Russian-Georgian War, on August 12, 2008. On that day, the presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, and Lithuania as well as the prime minister of Latvia took part in a rally in the city center of Tbilisi. By flying to Georgia at short notice, the five national leaders impressively demonstrated solidarity through their physical presence in their partner country’s capital during the ongoing Russian military invasion and air raids against Georgian settlements.
Since the introduction of Russian sanctions against Ankara in December 2015, Ukraine’s relations with Turkey have markedly intensified. During a visit by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to Ankara in March 2016, Ukraine and Turkey signed a 21-point joint declaration that includes economic, cultural, and consular issues as well as security items ranging from cooperation on weapons production to military education.
Numerous further recent trends across Russia’s western and southwestern borders—from tensions in the Southern Caucasus to a new assertiveness of the Baltic states vis-à-vis Moscow—have opened a window of opportunity for an Intermarium. A more formal, multilateral, and official alliance of the countries that often already enjoy close bilateral cooperation would not only be in their national interests. It could also help the EU and NATO acquire more stable eastern borders and partners while avoiding further Western confrontation with Russia.
Andreas Umland is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv and general editor of the book series Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society.