GUUAM SUMMIT BACK ON TRACK, INSTITUTIONALIZATION UNCERTAIN.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 91

The overdue summit of GUUAM has been rescheduled for May 28-29 and will be held in Yalta, Ukraine. President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova and Azerbaijani diplomats announced the summit’s date and its venue on May 4 and 7, respectively (Basapress, May 4; Turan, May 7). The announcements dispel a perception that GUUAM had been near its death throes after the failure to hold its prescheduled March 6-7 summit.

Moscow’s opposition, the ensuing postponements sine die of the summit, and internal developments in Ukraine and Moldova combined to suggest that GUUAM had come to a screeching halt, and that the group’s acknowledged locomotive Ukraine had run out of steam. President Leonid Kuchma, embattled internally, grew reluctant to irritate Russia. Early in the year, Moldova’s then President Petru Lucinschi, seeking reelection with Russian support, openly turned his back on GUUAM. Even after his defeat, he declared that the grouping was “of no benefit” to Moldova and publicly counseled his successor to oppose GUUAM’s planned institutionalization (Basapress, March 15). Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov, fixated on internal security problems, watched GUUAM’s difficulties passively.

Meanwhile, proxies for Moscow in Transdniester, Abkhazia and Karabakh–a trio dubbed the “mini anti-GUUAM”–and in offical Yerevan all publicly attacked GUUAM. So did a resurgent Communist Party of Ukraine and other pro-Russian groups in Kyiv.

It was Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Anatoly Zlenko who began picking up GUUAM’s pieces in mid-March. He could not have done so without Kuchma’s approval, though the Ukrainian president stayed in the background. GUUAM countries, according to Zlenko, must not fail to “make the most of their unique opportunity to provide a vital transit corridor from Europe to the Middle East and Central Asia. Our resolve to do so also underlies Ukraine’s role as an energizer of GUUAM” (UNIAN, March 15).

Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev in turn declared that his country would “keep faith with GUUAM. We have created this organization and we shall prove its viability.” The Bush administration in Washington signaled its support, as Georgia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Irakly Menagharishvili reported to his GUUAM counterparts on his return from a visit to the United States in late March (Turan, March 19; UNIAN, March 21; Prime-News, Turan, March 21, 27).

Even the communist Voronin seems to be shifting gears in favor of GUUAM. On his visit to Russia last month, Voronin had assured President Vladimir Putin that Moldova would quit GUUAM if the latter proves incompatible with Russia’s and/or Moldova’s interests. Last week, however, Voronin declared that Moldova would be present in any international grouping including GUUAM if it benefits Moldova economically. Refuting the reports that Moldova was distancing itself from GUUAM, Voronin endorsed the early holding of the group’s summit in Ukraine. Voronin made that statement after meeting with Kuchma to discuss GUUAM on the sidelines of the ecological summit in Bucharest on April 30. On May 2, Zlenko initiated a round of telephone talks with his Georgian, Uzbek, Azerbaijani and Moldovan counterparts to set the summit’s date and venue (Flux, Basapress, April 30; Turan, April 30, May 3; UNIAN, April 30, May 2).

On May 3-4 in Baku, delegations of the chambers of commerce of GUUAM member countries held the first in a planned series of meetings. Aliev raised the meeting’s political profile by receiving the delegations. At the meeting, draft documents were prepared on facilitating export-import operations through reciprocal tax and customs advantages among member countries, preparatory to creating a system of mutual trade preferences. The participants also discussed GUUAM’s role in the implementation of the European Union’s TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia) project. Ukrainian delegate Oleh Soskin reported on ideas being worked out in Kyiv to link the new Silk Route and the Baltic-Black Sea transit corridor, with Ukraine serving as the linchpin between the two. Beyond its immediate economic rationale, the proposal is seen also as a response to Russian “attempts at forming a Eurasian economic and militarized power bloc” (ANS, Turan, May 4-5; Zerkalo, May 5).

According to intentions made public last November, the summit was to have turned GUUAM from an informal group into an interstate organization, one possessing standing bodies and decisionmaking procedures as well as engaging in international contacts. It now seems unlikely, however, that the Yalta summit can adhere to that ambitious agenda for “institutionalization.” Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry hopes that the summit would pave the way toward a GUUAM free trade zone, oil and gas transit projects, and perhaps result in the signing of a GUUAM charter.

While Aliev and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze remain consistently supportive, Kuchma’s leeway is constrained by his perceived need for a tactical accommodation with Moscow. Voronin has yet to reveal his actual intentions, and Karimov has just launched into another one of his cyclical exercises in rapprochement with Russia. His preceding exercise of this type, which began in December 1999 and lasted several months, resulted in an almost year-long, undeclared suspension of Uzbekistan’s participation in GUUAM activities (see the Monitor, November 30, December 1, 2000, January 23, February 15-16, 19, May 7; Fortnight in Review, November 17, December 1, 2000, February 2).

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