On an official visit to Kyiv on March 25-26, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, used the term “Baltic Sea-Black Sea Axis,” referring to countries pursuing shared interests in this region: the three Baltic states, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Georgia.
In a joint declaration on strategic partnership and in their press conference statements, Yushchenko and Saakashvili announced that their countries would support each other’s aspirations regarding NATO and the European Union. They underscored Ukraine’s and Georgia’s interests in developing transit capacities to supply Caspian oil and gas to Europe. They called for efforts to resolve the “frozen” conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria under international auspices. And they committed themselves to revitalizing the GUAM group of countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova), the presidents of which are scheduled to hold a GUAM summit on April 22 in Chisinau.
Disclaiming any role as “exporters of revolution,” Saakashvili and Yushchenko noted the specific circumstances that had made possible the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. Saakashvili criticized Kyrgyzstan’s ousted president Askar Akayev for refusing to negotiate with opposition leaders and rejecting Saakashvili’s mediation offer (see EDM, March 23). He and Yushchenko urged all political groups in Kyrgyzstan to resolve the political crisis nonviolently through a process of national conciliation.
Clearly signaling a low regard for the Commonwealth of Independent States, the two presidents stated that they would only support “rational” undertakings within its framework, without, however, citing any such undertaking. Furthermore, they would not join any CIS projects that would “interfere with the prospects of [their countries’] integration with the EU.” Yushchenko termed the CIS a mirage, “a steam engine that was manufactured with so much effort but gives so little steam. We don’t have much time to waste on such fata-morgana projects.” Against this backdrop, Yushchenko’s and Saakashvili’s denial of intent to withdraw from the CIS seemed tantamount to suggesting that such a step would not be worth the bother.
During the visit, Saakashvili hinted that he might not attend the anniversary celebrations of the Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War on May 9 in Moscow. The decision will largely depend on results in the ongoing negotiations on withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia. The March 24-25 negotiating round in Moscow only confirmed Russia’s intentions to perpetuate its military presence in Georgia. For his part, Yushchenko announced that he would only attend a CIS summit in the Russian capital on May 8, but would return home to mark May 9 with his nation; and, apparently, with a rather different message.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko announced her decision to pay her first visit abroad in that capacity to Georgia, rather than to Russia as had previously been announced. Defense Ministers Anatoly Hrytsenko and Irakli Okruashvili signed a cooperation plan for 2005 envisaging joint activities by ground troops on both countries’ territories as well as naval exercises in the Black Sea.
Also on March 25, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Antanas Valionis arrived in Chisinau for meetings with President Vladimir Voronin and other Moldovan leaders. The visit was clearly designed to firm up Voronin’s commitment to the pro-Western course. Valionis offered Lithuanian expert assistance to Moldova in terms of harmonizing national legislation with that of the EU, taking best advantage of the EU’s Neighborhood Policy, fulfilling the recently adopted EU-Moldova Action Plan, and using Lithuania’s experience of implementing political, economic, and administrative reforms in compliance with EU requirements. To facilitate the transfer of such expertise, Valionis and his Moldovan counterpart, Andrei Stratan, agreed that the two governments would develop systematic inter-ministerial contacts. Voronin and Valionis jointly called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova and full-fledged participation by the United States, the European Union, Romania, and Ukraine in diplomatic efforts to settle the Transnistria conflict “on the basis of rule of law and democracy.” Voronin has invited Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus to Chisinau for the GUAM summit in April and for a bilateral visit in September.
The informal term Baltic Sea-Black Sea Axis does not pertain to any particular grouping, but rather to countries belonging to several Western or Western-oriented institutions and groups that overlap in this region. These include: NATO and the EU with their new member countries in the region; the Vilnius group of NATO new-member and aspirant countries; GUAM; and the New Friends of Georgia group of countries (the three Baltic states, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria), founded in Tbilisi last month. This configuration is an outcome of the recent, second round of Euro-Atlantic enlargement and a basis for working toward a third enlargement round.
(Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, Ukrainian Channel Five TV, Rustavi-2 TV, and Imedi TV, March 25, 26; BNS, Moldpres, March 25)