Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 168
On September 6 in New York, Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine, Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan and Petru Lucinschi of Moldova, plus an unnamed representative of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov, held an informal summit of the GUUAM group of these five countries. Intended to revitalize GUUAM, the summit illustrated both its potential for development and its actual weaknesses.
A joint communique of the presidents, a memorandum of understanding among them, and their statements at a concluding news conference identified GUUAM’s short- and medium-term priorities. These include:
1. Institutionalization. After three years of existence of GUAM (GUUAM since 1999) as an “informal association,” the presidents agreed that the grouping is ripe for institutionalization. They resolved to prepare annual action programs and to hold regular semiannual meetings of the heads of state, of the foreign affairs ministers and of transport ministers, rotating the venues among member countries. The next summit is scheduled to be held in the first quarter of 2001 in Kyiv.
2. International trade. The presidents reaffirmed GUUAM’s initial raison d’etre–namely, pooling forces to support oil and gas pipeline projects as well as the planned Transit Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia (TRACECA). That goal has long irritated Moscow because the proposed routes would link the GUUAM countries directly with the West, bypassing Russia.
Beyond that known agenda, the presidents agreed in New York to begin negotiations toward creating a free-trade area of these five countries. Kuchma, Shevardnadze and Aliev presented that goal as a direct consequence of the failure of the CIS to create a free-trade zone (FTZ). Virtually all CIS countries hold Moscow’s protectionist policies responsible for thwarting the FTZ (see the Monitor, January 28, March 10, May 1, 16, 25, June 23). A free trade area of the GUUAM might attract other CIS member countries. Furthermore, the presidents resolved to maintain visa-free travel arrangements among the GUUAM countries on a bilateral basis. That decision, too, sets GUUAM apart from the rest of the CIS. The decision responds to Russia’s recent move to scrap the multilateral CIS agreement on visa-free travel in order to gain extra political leverage over individual CIS countries (see the Monitor, September 1, 5).
3. Conflict resolution. The presidents strongly upheld the territorial integrity of existing states and inviolability of their borders as the sole basis for the resolution of conflicts. They condemned–as they usually do also within the CIS– “aggressive separatism,” a none-too-cryptic reference to the Russian-backed secessions of Abkhazia, Transdniester and Karabakh from Georgia, Moldova and Azerbaijan, respectively; a situation exacerbated in the case of Azerbaijan by the Armenian seizure of Azeri regions beyond Karabakh. While in New York, Shevardnadze publicly censured Moscow’s veto of a recent UN Security Council draft document which would have defined Abkhazia’s political status as a constituent if autonomous part of Georgia.
4. Enlargement. Although GUAM was open to accession by other CIS countries since its inception in 1997, only Uzbekistan joined it; no other CIS country would irritate Moscow to that extent. At present, GUUAM seeks to enlarge beyond the framework of the CIS. Discussions about enlargement focus on neighbors to the West, such as Poland and Slovakia are to Ukraine, Romania is to Moldova, or Romania and Bulgaria are to Georgia across the Black Sea. Poland seems a long shot because Kyiv will ultimately hesitate to antagonize Moscow by inviting a NATO country to join GUUAM. But Romania is a different matter. It will not be in NATO any time soon, and is keenly interested in participating in the transit of Caspian oil via the Black Sea toward Danubian Europe. A bold political move toward GUUAM would advance that Romanian goal. Yesterday in Tbilisi, Shevardnadze announced that Romanian President Emil Constantinescu has told him that Romania is prepared to apply officially to join GUUAM.
The summit highlighted not only the intention to turn GUUAM into an operational organization but, by the same token, the ineffectiveness of earlier moves in that direction. In 1998-99, the member countries caucused to defend their common interests within the CIS; supported each other’s efforts to rid their respective territories, or adjacent geographic regions, of Russian troops and military hardware which exceeded the ceilings of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). Treaty; and discussed the possible creation of a joint peacekeeping unit. The five countries did appoint “national GUUAM coordinators”–an office intended to handle proposals for functional cooperation on a multilateral basis within the group. They also intended to create a consultative mechanism of the defense ministers. But almost nothing advanced beyond the stage of discussion. Top-level political attention to these proposals was spotty, and funding scarce. High-level meetings of GUUAM were, as a rule, held in the West–Strasbourg in 1997, Washington in 1999, and now New York–rather than in the member countries.
In late 1999 and earlier this year, GUUAM for all intents and purposes lost Moldova and Uzbekistan. Lucinschi was preoccupied in garnering Moscow’s acquiescence to his reelection; he does not seem to have abandoned that goal in spite of recent political defeats. Karimov feels that he needs Russia’s support against the Islamist challenge, which his own policies may inadvertently have exacerbated. Moldova and Uzbekistan therefore withdrew from GUUAM activities. The group was reduced to a trio of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine–in effect, a GAU.
The New York summit seemed to confirm that contraction. The absent Karimov, represented in his absence, is not known to have acknowledged the meeting publicly; and Lucinschi went out of his way to state that his presence “does not imply dissatisfaction with other groupings and organizations”–meaning the CIS. Ultimately, the GAU trio may prove more functional than the GUUAM quintet (UNIAN, DINAU, AzerHabar, Flux, Infotag, September 7-8; Tbilisi Radio, Prime-News, September 8, 11; see the Monitor, March 10, 20, 22; Fortnight in Review, March 17, 31).
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