Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan and Vladimir Voronin of Moldova held a summit meeting of the GUUAM group of countries on June 6-7 in Yalta, Ukraine. This long-awaited summit is the first held on the territory of a member country rather than on the sidelines of international conferences in the West such as, most recently, the United Nations’ Millennium Summit in New York September 2000. The Yalta summit marks, moreover, the institutionalization of GUUAM after three years of existence as an informal grouping.
The location for this summit is fraught with historic symbolism. The presidents met in Yalta’s Livadia Palace of the Russian Tsars, scene also of the 1945 partition of the world into spheres of influence. The June 6-7 summit gathered five countries that are about to enter the second decade of their independence while still handicapped by the legacies of the Tsarist and the 1945 Yalta dispensations.
The presidents signed a GUUAM Charter defining the group’s goals at this initial stage and creating its first institutions. The official goals include development of reciprocal trade, creation of a GUUAM Free Trade Zone, joint support for the creation of transit routes between Europe and Central Asia, and mutual support in international organizations. Under the terms of the Charter, GUUAM will seek official registration with the status of an international organization at the United Nations. The group proposes to establish relations with the European Union, the Euroatlantic Partnership Council and other international organizations.
The charter creates a three-level structure of GUUAM. Its top decisionmaking body, the conference of heads of state, will hold annual meetings in Yalta as the permanent site of GUUAM summits. The chairmanship of that and other GUUAM bodies is to rotate annually and alphabetically among the member countries. Meanwhile, Kyiv–meaning, apparently, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the presidency–will function as GUUAM’s public information center. GUUAM’s executive body, the conference of foreign affairs ministers, will meet twice a year, rotating the venue among the member countries. The ministers will appoint the Committee of National Coordinators as a staff organ of GUUAM. The organization’s working languages will be Russian and English.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma commented during the summit that the charter forms a point of departure for further institutionalization of GUUAM. The presidents singled out the creation of a GUUAM Free Trade Zone (FTZ) as a priority. Draft documents on a FTZ were submitted at the summit, but were found to lack in the specifics that would both reflect and harmonize the individual countries’ interests. The documents were therefore returned to the national coordinators for reworking. If past experience is any guide, the staffs will need Western expert assistance to complete the work in a focused and a timely manner.
All presidents went out of their way to underscore GUUAM’s economic functions and downplay its political potential. With an eye to Moscow, they insisted that their group does not impinge on “anyone’s interests, including Russia.” Nor is it designed as a counter to the CIS or to the latter’s newly created subgroup, the Eurasian Economic Community (EAEC). Yet GUUAM’s emergence splits an already dysfunctional CIS into a core and a periphery. The Russian-led core itself is far from consolidated. It includes an EAEC stunted at birth and a nine-year old Collective Security Treaty that still exists mainly on paper. GUUAM’s countries have clearly demarcated themselves from the rest of the CIS by not joining those two Russian-led groups and by developing their own relations with such forums as the World Trade Organization, the European Union’s transit projects, and the Euroatlantic Partnership Council, bypassing Moscow. In that sense, GUUAM’s member countries are within the CIS but gravitate toward its periphery, and as an institutionalized group, GUUAM will by definition operate outside the CIS.
FIVE COUNTRIES, FIVE SETS OF COMPLEMENTARY INTERESTS.