Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 81

Uzbekistan has officially joined the GUAM group of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, augmenting its capacity to provide a counterweight to Russia within and outside the Commonwealth of Independent States. Uzbek President Islam Karimov added his signature to GUAM’s–now GUUAM’s–documents during a meeting with Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan and Petru Lucinschi of Moldova on April 24 in the Uzbek embassy in Washington during NATO’s anniversary summit. The venue and setting carry particular significance in view of Russia’s boycott of NATO’s summit and unsuccessful attempt to persuade at least three of the GUAM presidents to fall into line (see item below).

The five presidents conferred behind closed doors and declined to brief the media. Afterwards, they issued a joint statement expressing their readiness to expand cooperation with NATO in the framework of the Partnership for Peace program and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, thus distancing themselves from Moscow, which has suspended its participation–however meager in the first place–in these programs. The statement asserted that GUUAM is “not directed against any particular country or group of countries”–an assurance intended for Russia and its loyalists in the CIS, particularly Armenia, whom the GUUAM countries would prefer not to isolate. The five presidents pledged to reinforce cooperation among their countries in international organizations and forums. They would jointly promote resolution of conflicts and crises on the basis of four factors. First, the territorial integrity of existing states and inviolability of their internationally recognized borders (principles which militate against the “common state” solutions pursued by Moscow in Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan). Second, rejection of “aggressive separatism” and “ethnic intolerance” (problems confronting in one way or another Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan). Third, resistance to “religious extremism” (a point undoubtedly introduced by Uzbekistan whose leadership grapples with that problem). Fourth, prevention of arms flows to conflict areas (a problem posed by Russian militarization of Armenia and the unwanted Russian troops in Moldova and Georgia).

Apart from these concerns over security issues, the five presidents emphasized GUUAM’s economic function of promoting unimpeded East-West trade and the creation of the Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia transport corridors. Karimov commented after the meeting that a certain country, “driven by imperial ambitions and strategic interests in Asia, seeks to thwart those projects” because they bypass that particular country (Turan, UNIAN, April 26).

GUUAM remains–like GUAM–a consultative grouping not bound by any treaty obligations. Prior to the Washington meeting, the five countries had considered codifying their relationship in a formal document. The draft under consideration had stipulated economic and diplomatic cooperation, leaving out military cooperation, which remains a matter for bilateral agreements. Ultimately the five countries agreed–at least for the time being–to forego a formal document in the interest of their national and collective flexibility.