GUUAM’S GROWTH PAINS.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 34

The summit of the GUUAM group of countries (Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova), which was scheduled to be held in Kyiv on March 6-7, has been postponed for vaguely explained reasons and with no alternative date. According to Ukraine’s ambassador in Baku, Borys Alekseyenko, this might be “May or June at the earliest.” According to Ukraine’s presidential deputy spokesman, Anatoly Orel, whenever it is held, it will be in Kyiv. Officially, Presidents Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan and Petru Lucinschi of Moldova requested the delay. Aliev cited a scheduling conflict which would prevent him from traveling to Kyiv. Lucinschi creatively fell back on the parliamentary elections due to be held in his country on February 25.

This meeting would have been the first official summit and, as well, the first held in a GUUAM member country. The previous three presidential meetings, all informal, were held in the West. The Kyiv summit was intended to institutionalize GUUAM–to mark its passage from an informal consultative grouping to an interstate organization with standing bodies, internal procedural mechanisms and an identity of its own on the international scene. International recognition could have been close at hand.

Staff-level preparations for the summit, seemingly fairly well advanced when the event was called off, had focused on an institutionalization agenda. First, establishing a permanent secretariat of GUUAM, likely to be located in Kyiv. Second, enhancing the role of the five national coordinating staffs. Third, adding an interparliamentary dimension to GUUAM. Fourth, instituting the rotating chairmanship of its nascent interstate bodies. Fifth, approving a consular convention and rules on simplified travel among member countries. And, sixth, laying the groundwork for a GUUAM Free Trade Zone in response to the failure of the CIS to create such a zone. All of these are now deferred.

The summit was, moreover, to have discussed the conflict resolution issues related to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova as well as the role of GUUAM countries in advancing Western-sponsored pipeline projects and the Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia transit corridor. Those are the issues of common interest which had inspired GUUAM’s creation in the first place as an informal grouping and that will for the foreseeable future continue to link the fates of its member countries.

Russia’s intensifying opposition to GUUAM is almost certainly a factor behind the hesitations which now seem to be cropping up in some of the group’s national capitals. Moscow was especially rankled by GUUAM’s initial decision last November to call the summit in March. That decision and its high-profile announcement coincided precisely with the failed CIS summit and the Russian torpedoing of the end-year ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. By calling their own summit, the GUUAM countries highlighted the irrelevancy of the CIS, confirmed their joint opposition to Moscow’s geopolitical and military agenda in the region stretching from Moldova to Georgia and Azerbaijan, and signaled their alignment with Western policies after Moscow had slammed the door on the OSCE’s consensus.

Moscow counterattacked both officially and through proxies. It sponsored in the Russian military stronghold of Tiraspol in eastern Moldova the meeting of a mini “Anti-GUUAM” group of Transdniester, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Karabakh–that is, of territories which have seceded with Russian support from the GUUAM countries of Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan, respectively. In apparent retaliation to GUUAM, the Tiraspol meeting announced an intention to “institutionalize” that grouping of unrecognized republics. On an official level, Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vardan Oskanian publicly attacked GUUAM on the grounds that it harms the CIS. Oskanian’s move served no conceivable Armenian national interest and left little doubt that he was speaking for Moscow. On January 19 and 22, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued its sharpest attacks yet on GUUAM with accusations that it aims to create a military grouping.

All this generated unprecedented international attention to GUUAM in the run up to the planned summit in Kyiv. By the same token, the summit’s vaguely explained postponement has raised intriguing questions. Azerbaijan’s president requested the postponement so that he might attend the Caspian summit in Ashgabat on March 8-9 and proceed from there to Turkey. But strictly speaking, neither this event nor the Moldovan parliamentary elections posed a conflict with the scheduled March 6-7 GUUAM summit date. That date had, moreover, been firmly set by the five GUUAM presidents well before the Caspian summit and Aliev’s Turkish visit came up. In Baku, suppositions based on precedent suggest that back-to-back travels are too strenuous for Aliev and that he may also need to spend extra time in Turkey for medical checkups.

The Moldovan president is, admittedly, fighting for his political life and will seek to be reelected by the newly elected parliament. But that need not have prevented him from attending the Kyiv summit. His participation there, if properly managed, could in fact have redounded to his political advantage at home, where the hard-pressed agrarian producers would hail progress toward a GUUAM Free Trade Zone. Lucinschi’s top priority at the moment, however, is to secure Moscow’s indirect support for his reelection. That priority also helps explain why official Chisinau failed to issue a dementi to the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s doubly incorrect allegations recently that Moldova criticizes GUUAM’s “military bent.”

The summit’s postponement shows the extent to which the fate of an uninstitutionalized GUUAM depends on factors related to the personalities, political agendas and priorities of state presidents. One of the great virtues of institutionalization would be to diminish the importance of that personal factor. But the summit’s postponement has unexpectedly delayed GUUAM’s institutionalization and is prolonging its growth pains.

At the staff level meanwhile, some drafting work continues on the documents of a GUUAM summit, should the event be rescheduled. The committee of GUUAM National Coordinators of the five countries is due to convene on February 20 in Tashkent. Foreign Affairs Ministers Vilayet Guliev of Azerbaijan and Irakli Menagarishvili of Georgia, meeting in Baku last week, discussed preparations for a session of the five GUUAM countries’ parliamentary commissions on foreign relations. Concurrently in Kyiv, Foreign Affairs Minister Anatoly Zlenko confirmed Ukraine’s willingness to host a rescheduled summit. And President Leonid Kuchma made a point of announcing that he had discussed GUUAM matters by telephone with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov. These are significant gestures for Kyiv to make at a time when Kuchma is warily engaged in a tactical rapprochement with the Kremlin (UNIAN, Azernews, Turan, Prime-News, February 8, 10, 13-15; see the Monitor, October 19, November 8, 30, December 1, 2000, January 23; The Fortnight in Review, October 20, November 17, December 1, 2000, February 2).

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