Political, NGO and administrative leaders from several Black Sea countries gathered in Bucharest on Monday for a Black Sea Forum for Dialogue and Partnership, a Romania-led regional initiative that could not, however, benefit of the participation of Russia.

The creation of a Black Sea Fund to support regional projects is the first palpable initiative to be announced at the forum. The German Marshall Fund project was announced by US representative J.D. Crouch, former Ambassador to Romania and current deputy national security advisor for President Bush, in the first part of the event.

The Fund, created on the lines of the Balkan Trust for Democracy and aimed at supporting public-private projects in the Black Sea region, will be launched effectively in autumn 2006 with a starting budget of 20 million US dollars, according to GMF vice-president Phillip Henderson.

The Bucharest summit is attented by the presidents of Romania, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Moldovan Republic, as well as the representatives of Lithuania, Turkey and Bulgaria and of many international organizations.

According to Romanian President Traian Basescu, the forum aims at becoming the starting point of an interactive process to consolidate the regional cooperation. A process that would be very hard to accomplish without the support of Russia, as many Western commentators have insisted on noting the absence of Moscow’s representatives from the Bucharest Forum.

The Black Sea security and cooperation with Western support has been a focal point of President Basescu’s international agenda since coming to power in late 2004.