Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 130

The GUAM Summit just held in Batumi (see EDM, July 7) demonstrated that Georgia and Azerbaijan compose GUAM’s solid core; that Ukraine’s governing political forces are committed to GUAM while the evenly matched opposition forces are uncommitted; that Moldova is on the verge of abandoning the group; and that GUAM is capable of diversifying partnership relations beyond the group’s own format.

GUAM may now be called “GUAm” as a result of Moldova’s all-but-declared defection. Moldova was a co-founder of the group in 1997, hosted the “GUAM revival” summit in 2005, and contributed actively to GUAM’s institutionalization during the Moldovan chairmanship period (see EDM, April 20, 21, and 25-28, 2005). Later on, however, Chisinau distanced itself demonstratively from GUAM, hoping through this and other gestures to earn Moscow’s goodwill for a solution to the Transnistria conflict. President Vladimir Voronin stayed away from the 2007 and 2008 GUAM summits. He only sent his minister of internal affairs to the Batumi event, a mismatch that looked like a snub to the five heads of state (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania) who attended this summit. The minister, Valentin Mejinschi, deviated even further by choosing to deliver his perfunctory speech in Russian.

Moldova alone has not ratified the GUAM Charter, a failure that jeopardizes GUAM’s quest for international recognition as a full-fledged regional organization. The Moldovan parliament with its strong pro-presidential majority could easily have ratified the GUAM Charter, if told to do so. Chisinau is not delegating its representatives to the Kyiv-based GUAM Secretariat, has a poor record of attendance at GUAM sectoral commissions’ meetings, and is not paying its GUAM membership dues.

Voronin attacked GUAM in Russian press interviews ahead of the Batumi summit and during the event. He found fault, indignantly and irrelevantly, with the Odessa-Brody-Plock-Gdansk oil pipeline project for bypassing Moldova. He claimed credit for vetoing the planned GUAM peacekeeping unit (notwithstanding that it was only proposed for international missions outside GUAM states’ territories). Voronin felt obligated to describe GUAM membership as “pointless” and the group itself as “economically unproductive and therefore lacking gravitational pull.” By contrast he feigned praise for the CIS as a “highly effective project, confirmed by life itself, with an economic dimension based on Russia’s energy resources.” Catering to Moscow’s adversarial view of GUAM, Voronin reassured Russia that “Moldova will not be used as [part of a] counterbalance to someone else” (Kommersant, March 11, July 2).

Those arguments are reminiscent of Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s justifications for abandoning what was then GUUAM. Uzbekistan had joined the group in 1999, only to withdraw de facto by 2003 and officially in 2005, on the grounds that the group was overly political, underperforming economically, and irritating Russia. By analogy, Moldova’s arguments gave rise to speculation during the Batumi summit that Moldova was about to withdraw from GUAM (Rezonansi, July 4). Moldovan authorities, however, do not intend to abandon GUAM officially; but they will keep their distance from GUAM for as long as they crave Russian cooperation on Transnistria, and until those hopes turn (as seems likely) into disappointment.

The Ukrainian Parliament, unlike Moldova’s, had wrestled for years with the issue of ratifying the GUAM Charter. Signed by the four presidents at GUAM’s Yalta summit in 2001, the Charter was revised at the Chisinau summit in 2005, signed in its updated form by the four presidents at the Kyiv summit in 2006, and easily ratified by the Georgian and Azerbaijani parliaments. Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) finally ratified the Charter in March 2008 by the narrowest admissible margin (226 votes in favor), with the opposition parties declining to vote or voting against (Interfax-Ukraine, March 7). Meanwhile, the GUAM Secretariat’s small headquarters in Kyiv, a Ukrainian responsibility, has been undergoing repairs ever since the 2006 Kyiv summit (see EDM, May 25, 2006).

Ukraine is the main supporter of creating a GUAM peacekeeping unit. Kyiv regards this proposal as an opportunity to demonstrate Ukraine’s capacity for regional leadership. The proposal was discussed in some detail at the GUAM summits in Kyiv 2006 and Baku 2007 (see EDM, June 20, 2007). In the run-up to the Batumi summit, Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov discussed the idea yet again with receptive Georgian leaders in Tbilisi. They agreed to keep alive the consultations about composition and possible international missions of such a unit (Interfax-Ukraine, June 5). The Batumi summit documents do not mention this idea, although it was again discussed there (Civil Georgia, The Messenger, July 2).

Russia took the floor in Batumi for the first time at a GUAM summit. It did so by proxy through CIS First Deputy Executive Secretary Vladimir Garkun, a Belarus diplomat. In the briefest of all speeches, he repeatedly declared, “We all [ex-Soviet countries] have a lot in common,” a tentative overture though blurring the difference. GUAM remains the only interstate organization in formerly Soviet territory that excludes Russia from membership.