Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 223

Ahead of the December 1 summit of the CIS, the pro-Western GUUAM countries–Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova–are acting as a group outside the CIS to protect their imperiled independence. GUUAM’s coordinated policy was especially in evidence at the annual conference of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Ministerial Council–on the level of foreign affairs ministers–held on November 27-28 in Vienna. For the first time at a major international conference, the GUUAM countries’ ministers held a conference of their own, issued a joint position statement to resist Russia’s purposes regarding their countries and met as a group with the U.S. secretary of state.

Azerbaijan’ Foreign Affairs Minister Vilayet Guliev addressed the conference on behalf of the five GUUAM countries, underscoring their solidarity of purpose. Guliev warned against the dangers of “ethnic intolerance and ethnic cleansing, acquisition of territories, aggressive separatism and terrorism in their interrelationship, and illegal arms deliveries.” Without naming Moscow publicly, the joint statement was obviously referring to Moscow’s support for the secession of parts of Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, the arming of unlawful local forces as proxies and the direct Russian military presence in Moldova and Georgia. Those issues topped the agenda of the closed-doors plenary meetings. Russia’s refusal to correct its policies in those countries was one of the main factors which led this conference into impasse.

GUUAM’s common statement also warned against the dangerous spillover of “illegal activities which flourish in the first place in conflict zones.” This warning seems to reflect a special Uzbek concern. Tashkent has concluded–as have its neighbors Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan–that the continuing conflict in northern Afghanistan, rather than the Taliban authorities as such, is the main source of criminal activities which spill over into Central Asia. For this reason, Uzbekistan and its two neighbors openly disagree with Moscow’s and Tehran’s fueling of that war (see the Monitor, September 8, 26, October 13, 30-31, November 9-10).

The five countries voiced unprecedentedly frank criticism of the OSCE’s ineffectiveness, as evidenced by its failure to uphold its own principles in Moldova, the Caucasus and Central Asia. “We must regretfully note the OSCE’s lack of resolve and energy regarding the settlement of the so-called ‘frozen’ conflicts. Years pass by, but one cannot speak about successes in settling [those conflicts.] We are firmly convinced that the organization cannot and should not become reconciled with the present situation in the Abkhaz and Tskhinvali [South Ossetia] regions of Georgia, the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and the Transdniester region of Moldova.” The GUUAM countries, moreover, urged the OSCE to engage in peacekeeping operations and to hold “all” countries accountable for carrying out the commitments undertaken at last year’s OSCE summit.

However couched in diplomatic language, that passage in GUUAM’s statement is a cry of alarm. The Kremlin is in partial breach of those commitments regarding Georgia and in total breach regarding Moldova. Yet the OSCE is failing to correct–or at least condemn–those breaches. In those two countries as well as in Azerbaijan, the OSCE seems powerless to end the Russian control over mediating and peacekeeping activities and the arming of Moscow’s local proxies. That sense of alarm can only grow in these three GUUAM countries after the failure of this OSCE conference.

Just before the Vienna conference, Ukraine nominated Borys Tarasyuk to succeed Max van der Stoel in the post of OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. The nomination suited the GUUAM countries well. Tarasyuk had been released last month as Ukrainian foreign minister under Russian pressure on the basis of his clear-cut Western orientation (see the Monitor, October 3; Fortnight in Review, October 6). For similar reasons, Moscow successfully opposed Tarasyuk’s candidacy to the OSCE post. Ukraine ultimately withdrew Tarasyuk’s nomination and endorsed Sweden’s Rolf Ekeus, who will take over as high commissioner next year.

That post should prove crucially important to Ukraine and to Ukrainian-Russian relations, if Ekeus intends to continue the inquiry which van der Stoel launched into the situation of Ukraine’s Russian minority and of Russia’s Ukrainian minority. The Russian government has recently begun playing the ethnic card with respect to Ukraine. Among the GUUAM countries, it is Georgia and Moldova who have been the primary targets of manipulation of ethnic issues by Moscow from 1990 to date. But as long as Boris Yeltsin was president, Russia stopped short of playing that card in Ukraine. It is President Vladimir Putin who has initiated the risky official policy.

Unobtrusively but unmistakably, GUUAM’s statement introduced the term “regional structure” to describe the group and called for direct contacts between GUUAM and the existing international structures and institutions, both global and regional. This represents a barely veiled bid for recognition of GUUAM as an international or regional organization in its own right. Such recognition and its practical consequences could officially bury the CIS. Russia has unsuccessfully fought for international recognition of the CIS and will not lightly accept the recognition of GUUAM.

In their special meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, GUUAM’s foreign affairs ministers expressed appreciation for the “growing American interest” in the international role of the GUUAM countries as a group. They expressed unwavering support for U.S.-sponsored plans to bring Caspian oil and gas to Europe. Once the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is completed as a priority project, Ukraine can in turn become a transit country for oil and gas exports to Central and Northern Europe from the Caspian basin. That opens the prospect for the GUUAM group to provide reliable energy transit corridors to several parts of Europe during the decade ahead.

Similarly in the meetings with European Union counterparts, the GUUAM countries’ ministers called for implementation of the EU’s Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia project. Successful development of TRACECA and the pipeline projects would increase the Western stake in securing the independence of the GUUAM countries on a permanent basis. For that same reason, Moscow is certain to continue resisting transit projects in Azerbaijan and Georgia and to oppose Ukraine’s more recent attempts to become a transit country for Caspian resources.

The five ministers seemed satisfied with GUUAM’s unprecedented progress since the September meeting of the heads of state in New York. They reviewed preparations for the summit scheduled to be held in early 2001 in Kyiv in order to institutionalize GUUAM–that is, to develop joint consultative bodies on the political level, as well as plan transport routes and a GUUAM Free Trade Zone. Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Anatoly Zlenko reaffirmed those intentions in a post-conference statement which expressing the countries’ common stand. In contrast to Moscow’s approach to the CIS, no one in GUUAM proposes to create supranational bodies or a military alliance. And in further contrast to the CIS, there is no potential hegemonic country in GUUAM (Prime-News, UNIAN, Turan, ANS, Flux, Basapress, Noyan-Tapan, November 21-29; GUUAM news releases (Washington), November 19-27; (see the Monitor, September 12, October 19, November 8; Fortnight in Review, October 20, November 17).

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