Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 77

The presidents of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova — the GUAM group of countries — will meet on April 21-22 in Chisinau to revitalize the dormant organization and, possibly, to initiate its enlargement. The presidents of Romania, Poland, and Lithuania have been invited to attend the GUAM summit.

Known as GUUAM since the 1999 accession of Uzbekistan, the group lost that country de facto in 2002 when President Islam Karimov suspended Uzbekistan’s participation indefinitely, on the grounds that GUUAM was not functional. On April 18, 2005, Karimov turned down a last-minute attempt to persuade him to attend the Chisinau summit. He was quoted as saying, “Recent developments in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova [referring to democratization in these countries] compel him to relate to GUAM with caution” (Interfax, April 18).

GUAM was founded de facto in May 1996 during debates within the OSCE on implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and negotiations on that treaty’s adapted version (which was ultimately signed in 1999). Azerbaijan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Araz Azimov, initiated the group’s formation, initially as a caucus of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, all of which shared (and still share) an interest in Russia’s compliance with flank limitations under the original treaty and the adapted one. Officially, GUAM was established at a meeting of the four heads of state on the sidelines of a Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg in 1997. Strongly encouraged by the United States, GUAM held a follow-up summit in Washington in 1999, as guests to NATO’s summit there (on which occasion Uzbekistan joined and the group was renamed GUUAM).

The group’s unadvertised general agenda was to provide a counterweight to Russia within the CIS, create a pro-Western center of gravity in the “post-Soviet space,” and pool efforts in pursuit of common interests in the region. It was the only group of CIS member countries that did not include Russia; moreover, the GU(U)AM countries were not parties to the CIS Collective Security Treaty. The Russian government and the mass media under its influence treated GUAM with suspicion and hostility throughout the period of its existence. Moscow misrepresented GUAM as a political-military alliance directed against Russian interests; pressured some of the member countries’ governments to distance themselves from GUAM projects; and cited GUAM’s existence as an added rationale for supporting secessionist enclaves and territorial grabs against Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan.

From 1999 to date, GUAM never managed to find a collective mission. Intentions to provide transport corridors linking the European Union to the Caspian basin and Central Asia came to naught when the EU aborted its much-advertised TRACECA project (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia). Proposals for joint GUUAM investment projects found no investors in the impoverished member countries. The plan to create a GUUAM Battalion for protection of pipelines failed for lack of modern capabilities. An idea to provide peacekeepers in Abkhazia at Georgia’s request foundered on Russia’s objections.

Ukraine took the initiative of institutionalizing GUUAM at the group’s summit in Yalta in 2001, the first to be held on the territory of a member country. That summit adopted a GUUAM Charter envisaging annual meetings of the heads of state as the top political forum in GUUAM and meetings of the ministers of foreign affairs at six-month intervals as the executive forum of the group. It created a Committee of National Coordinators to meet at frequent intervals for monitoring implementation of joint programs, a permanent Secretariat, and an Information Office to be based in Kyiv. In 2002, the member countries signed — and, subsequently, ratified — an agreement on free trade. All of these measures remained on paper, however.

In 2001, the U.S. Congress approved the allocation of some $45 million to fund GUUAM projects. Absent convincing projects, however, most that funding remained unspent year after year. With State Department support, GU(U)AM created an electronic database (“virtual center”) for information on terrorism and organized crime. The group’s activities tended to focus on Washington, where ambassadors of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine tried hard to promote the group’s image, even as governments at home seemed increasingly uninterested from 2002 on. At that point, GUUAM could rightly be described as “lying on its deathbed.”

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze’s political decline, Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliev’s death, and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s pro-Kremlin tilt, added to the structural causes of GUUAM’s failure during 2003-2004. Now, however, with new leaders in the member countries, and against the backdrop of Euro-Atlantic eastward enlargement, GUAM seems set for a new lease on life.