members jointly resisted Moscow’s attempts to revise the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe in ways that would have allowed Russia to keep ground forces in or near GUUAM countries. That signal achievement of the group remains its sole tangible one to date. Yet the group seems at the moment to be fading out of the picture with an unfulfilled agenda, and even as its raison d’etre seems more valid than ever, in light of the rise of Vladimir Putin to power in Moscow. GUUAM has recently skipped a number of prescheduled meetings at various levels, notably that of Defense Ministers, for reasons never made public but which ultimately became apparent enough.
Ultimately, the group revealed two weak links. These are Moldova and Uzbekistan. Already last year, Moldova–anxious not to offend Russia–began skipping GUUAM meetings and disclaiming interest in GUUAM’s security functions. In view of Moldova’s multiple vulnerabilities, that defection made little difference to GUUAM in practical terms. But it did signify a political setback for the group as a whole and a symptom of incipient erosion.
In recent weeks, Uzbekistan has cooled noticeably toward GUUAM as a result of President Islam Karimov’s reconciliation with the Kremlin in the name of resisting “Islamic extremism.” Karimov seems prepared to sacrifice GUUAM and other Uzbek interests on the altar of his inordinate fear of Islam and his personal relationship with Putin. The Uzbek president seems oblivious to Azerbaijan’s demonstration that it is perfectly possible for a Muslim state to pursue a secular orientation without entering into risky alliances with Moscow. Uzbekistan’s size and relative strength in its region are such that its defection–if consummated–would significantly diminish GUUAM’s overall weight and scope.