While Russia redoubles its efforts to assemble five other CIS countries into a Moscow-led military, political and economic bloc, an equivalent number of countries are distancing themselves from the Russian orbit and from the CIS itself. Those are the countries in the GUUAM group–Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova–as well as Turkmenistan outside that group. The Russian-accredited concept of a “CIS space” becomes meaningless as that would-be space splits into two groups of countries. Moreover, as an official analyst in Tashkent remarked this week, GUUAM–stretching from Central Europe to Central Asia–is no less “Eurasian” in scope than the bloc-in-the-making under Moscow.
Just as significantly, GUUAM now holds the potential for westward enlargement in Europe outside the CIS. Enlargement in that direction would help blur the temporary demarcation lines that would result from the evolutionary process of eastward enlargement of the European Union and NATO. That consideration partly accounts for Romania’s willingness to consider joining GUUAM in some form or other, probably with an observer’s status initially. Such a move on the part of Romania and also of Bulgaria could, furthermore, increase their chances in the competition over transit routes for Caspian oil and gas to Europe. It could also render Romania and Bulgaria more attractive as links in the TRACECA–the Transit Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia–project of the European Union. Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze has taken the lead in suggesting that Romania and Bulgaria should consider joining GUUAM. Those two countries are situated directly across the Black Sea from Georgia, on the shortest route from the South Caucasus into Danubian and Central Europe.
A Romanian and/or Bulgarian move toward GUUAM could, moreover, stimulate NATO’s cooperation with these two countries as well as with those in the existing GUUAM. While encouraging Romania’ and Bulgaria’s intentions to meet the qualifications for membership, NATO stops short of taking such a position with respect to Ukraine, Georgia or Azerbaijan. In practical terms, however, NATO’s cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia is more advanced than it is with Romania and Bulgaria. An enlarged GUUAM could help erase the lingering distinctions of status among countries that once “belonged” to the Soviet Union and those that did not. It could redound to the benefit of all concerned by lending impetus to the five countries’ relations with NATO in both the political and the military sphere.
Unlike the Moscow-led group, GUUAM does not propose to form a bloc and has no leading country. At its western and eastern ends, Ukraine and Uzbekistan have in recent days taken significant steps toward a rapprochement both bilaterally and in the GUUAM framework. On an official visit to Tashkent, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma agreed with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov on measures for “mutual support, regionally and internationally, in confronting challenges and threats to their stability and security.” They called for the setting up of an international antiterrorism center under United Nation aegis–evidently a counterproposal to Moscow’s plan for a CIS antiterrorism center under Russian leadership. Kuchma and Karimov agreed, furthermore, on Ukrainian arms and ammunition supplies to Uzbekistan; servicing of Uzbek military inventories; and deliveries of Ukrainian-designed new models of arms to Uzbek forces.
Concurrently, Azerbaijan’s Defense Minister Safar Abiev discussed with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksandr Kuzmuk in Kyiv the creation of a joint battalion of GUUAM countries. Current plans envisage fielding that battalion in 2002 for missions which range from protection of oil and gas pipelines to participation in peacekeeping operations. Georgia and Azerbaijan favor using joint GUUAM units as part of international peacekeeping in the South Caucasus, once the OSCE or the UN authorize such deployment in Karabakh or internationalization of the Russian operation in Abkhazia. Ukraine has signaled its intention to contribute troops to such operations under an international mandate.
In Kyiv, Baku and Tashkent, all the officials involved in these meetings confirmed the intention to hold a summit of GUUAM early next year in Kyiv; and to impanel now a joint commission that would draft the documents and decisions to be adopted at the summit. According to Kuchma in Tashkent, “all the preconditions exist for institutionalizing GUUAM at our next meeting in Kyiv.” As agreed by the five countries’ presidents at their recent summit in New York, institutionalization would involve drawing up annual action programs, establishing a standing secretariat-type staff, and holding semiannual meetings of the heads of state, foreign affairs ministers and transport ministers.
With Ukraine leading the way, the governments are beginning to explore technical aspects of creating a GUUAM Free Trade Zone. Progress in that direction could render GUUAM attractive to CIS countries that have lost any illusion about the prospects of a free trade zone or customs union within the CIS.
“The Fortnight in Review” is prepared by senior analysts Jonas Bernstein (Russia), Stephen Foye (Security and Foreign Policy), and Vladimir Socor (Non-Russian republics). Editor, Stephen Foye. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at email@example.com, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4526 43rd Street NW, Washington, DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of “The Fortnight in Review” is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation