Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 16

On January 19 Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued–and, for emphasis, reissued three days later–its sharpest yet condemnation of the Georgia-Ukraine-Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Moldova (GUUAM) group of countries. The attack reflects broader Russian policies in Eurasia, with decided implications for other countries.

The ministry charges, first, that GUUAM has gone beyond its “initial character as an informal, consultative group for cooperation within the CIS”–an allusion to GUUAM’s current plans for institutionalization outside the CIS.

Second, it asserts that GUUAM agenda–focused on Caspian oil and gas pipelines and Europe-Asia transport projects–has departed from the group’s initial goals “which had in principle been compatible with integration in the CIS space.” It was that initial compatibility, the document claims that “made it possible for Russia to apply for joining TRACECA’s intergovernmental commission.” The argument implies that Moscow may, in the new situation, reconsider its seeming acceptance of TRACECA (Transit Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia, sponsored by the European Union).

And, third, the ministry accuses GUUAM of “forcing up the pace of military cooperation… in obvious contradiction to its originally stated goals.” The document approvingly cites Moldova as having allegedly “expressed concern over GUUAM’s emerging military proclivity.”

With this statement, Moscow has progressed from propaganda through proxy to direct polemics against GUUAM. During the final weeks of 2000, Russia had inspired two proxy attacks: one collectively by Transdniester, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Karabakh, and the other by Armenia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vardan Oskanian. In his December 26 briefing, summarizing Armenia’s foreign policy in 2000, Oskanian raised eyebrows by chastising GUUAM’s countries for trying to solve their problems outside the CIS, rather than within it (Armenpress, Snark, Noyan-Tapan, December 26-27, 2000).

Moscow’s broadside appears timed to inhibit preparations for GUUAM’s summit, which is scheduled to be held in early March in Kyiv, with an ambitious agenda focused on political institutionalization and free trade among the member countries. President Leonid Kuchma’s decision to host the summit and to cast his country as GUUAM’s locomotive predates the political crisis in Ukraine. Last December, with the crisis already in full swing, Kuchma retained sufficient will and clout to create a high-level governmental commission in charge of organizing the summit and preparing its documents. Meanwhile, however, the president’s internal political position has deteriorated, reducing his ability to lead and potentially forcing Kyiv into concessions to Moscow–as seen on the occasion of Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev’s visit to Ukraine last week (see the Monitor, January 22).

The ministry’s statement suggests that Russia could accept GUUAM as long as the group’s agenda is limited to economics. Meanwhile, however, the ministry and the Kremlin itself actively oppose the GUUAM’s countries’ top economic priority–the opening of oil and gas routes which would reduce these countries’ dependence on Russia for energy supplies and transit. Viktor Kalyuzhny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s plenipotentiary envoy for Caspian issues as well as deputy foreign affairs minister, peremptorily came out at least twice in the last two weeks against the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline project.

One of Kalyuzhny’s statements came during Putin’s visit to Baku and was accompanied by an unprecedented show of Russian naval power in the Caspian Sea (see the Monitor, January 11, 16). And both statements applied heavy pressure on the non-GUUAM country of Kazakhstan as well. Citing the importance of Kazakhstani oil to the viability of Baku-Ceyhan, Kalyuzhny publicly demanded that Kazakhstan withhold its oil from that project and that all available Caspian oil be routed through Russian pipelines.

Moscow is less active or vocal in opposing TRACECA because the EU itself seems to have placed that project on the back burner for the time being. To ensure the project’s future, however, the EU wants Russia at least symbolically on board TRACECA’s intergovernmental commission. By implying that it may withhold such cooperation because of what it regards as GUUAM countries’ disloyalty, Moscow hopes to get the EU to allow Russia’s interests and position in the CIS to become a factor in the EU’s own relations with the GUUAM group.

The charge that GUUAM focuses on military cooperation is grossly exaggerated and designed to increase the pressure on member countries. It is a fact that Moldova has more than once disclaimed all interest in GUUAM’s potential role in peacekeeping or pipeline security; but the allegation in Moscow’s statement that Moldova “expressed concern” on that score is almost certainly false and clearly designed to probe for weak spots in GUUAM (Itar-Tass, January 19, 22; Tbilisi Radio, January 22; see the Monitor, October 19, November 8, 30, December 1; Fortnight in Review, October 20, November 17, December 1, 2000).