Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 58

During President Leonid Kuchma’s official visits last week to Georgia and Azerbaijan, Ukrainian Defense Minister [and General] Oleksandr Kuzmuk and Deputy Foreign Minister Dmytro Tkach discussed military and political aspects, respectively, of GUUAM’s prospects (see the Monitor, March 20). Interviewed yesterday in Lviv, Kuzmuk lifted a curtain corner on plans to create a peacekeeping battalion of the GUUAM countries. The battalion, Kuzmuk reportedly indicated, will be a tripartite unit, and gave no indication of Moldovan or Uzbek participation; indeed, none is known to have been discussed for some time. Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan will each contribute one reinforced company of motorized infantry to the planned force. Each of the three countries will finance its own company and their Defense Ministries are in the process of selecting officers to staff the joint battalion. The Georgian and Azerbaijani officers and sergeants, once selected, will undergo special training courses at the Ukrainian ground forces’ academy in Odessa.

The battalion, once formed, will participate in peacekeeping operations authorized by the United Nations and/or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; this clarification places the unit wholly outside the framework of the “CIS peacekeeping” mechanism–in fact a purely Russian enterprise. A number of organizational aspects, as well as a precise definition of the tripartite battalion’s mission, are still “on the drawing board,” Kuzmuk said. No official deadlines have been set for completing the successive stages of the battalion’s formation (UNIAN, March 21).

In Tbilisi and Baku, the Ukrainian delegation had also discussed the possible use of the tripartite battalion to provide security for the planned oil and gas pipelines. Preparations for such a mission, however, stagnated after a promising start made in April 1999, when the Baku-Supsa (Georgia) oil pipeline and the Supsa maritime oil export terminal were officially inaugurated in the presence of Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze, Haidar Aliev, Leonid Kuchma and the heads of major oil companies (see the Monitor, April 19-20, 1999; Fortnight in Review, May 7, 1999). On that occasion, platoon-size elite units from Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan staged a joint exercise, intended as a preview of the GUUAM battalion’s operations. Combat units beat back a mock terrorist attack on the pipeline, pursuing and pinning down the attackers, while Ukrainian military engineers, working in a mock battle environment, laid within only three hours a 2.8 kilometer pipeline section above ground, as a stopgap substitute for the section “sabotaged” by terrorists.

During Kuchma’s visit last week, the Azerbaijani and Georgian militaries accepted invitations to participate in joint exercises in Ukraine this year under the aegis of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Those exercises include Peace Shield 2000 at Yavoriv and air defense practice in the Crimea. Azerbaijan’s readiness to participate in the latter exercise is doubly significant: Just days earlier its defense minister, Colonel-General Safar Abiev, had publicly turned down a Russian invitation for Azerbaijan to take part in the annual air defense exercise of the CIS Joint Air Defense System, which includes Russia and five other countries (Turan, Assa-Irada, March 17; AzerHabar, March 15-22).

Taking stock of the latest developments in GUUAM at their Tbilisi news conference, Kuchma and Shevardnadze continued using the five countries’ initials. But the presidents cited practical steps by only three of those five countries. The two presidents were at pains to deemphasize GUUAM’s security functions, underscoring instead the openness of its deliberations and the readiness of the group to accept new member countries. In remarks clearly addressed to Moscow, Shevardnadze regretted “suspicions and fear” which have been evidenced with regard to GUUAM; he went on to quip that “some fear GUUAM more than they do NATO” (Prime-News, March 17). Yet the latest developments in GUUAM confirm the trends that have been manifest for some months. First, that the group is becoming smaller and potentially more effective since Moldova and Uzbekistan–each for its own reasons–decided to distance themselves from the group. Second, that security constitutes a basic function of the core trio of Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan, whereas economic functions such as the oil trade and transport remain a matter of bilateral arrangements, concluded among these same countries outside the framework of GUUAM. And, third, that security planning has been lagging, but may now be about to return to the agenda of the group, whose current composition would more accurately be reflected in the acronym GAU (see the Monitor, March 10; Fortnight in Review, March 27).