Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 224

Moldovan president Petru Lucinschi conferred with his Azerbaijani and Georgian counterparts, Haidar Aliev and Eduard Shevardnadze, in Baku on November 26-27 and in Tbilisi on November 28-29. The talks were the first among these three presidents since the creation of the quadripartite Georgian-Ukrainian-Azerbaijani-Moldovan (GUAM) grouping on October 10 by Aliev, Shevardnadze, Lucinschi, and Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma. (See Monitor, November 26) As part of this new mechanism, the deputy foreign ministers of these four countries held their first regular political consultations in Baku on November 25.

The presidential meetings in Baku and Tbilisi focused on: mutual support in upholding national interests within the CIS; coordination in resisting "separatism" and pursuing the political settlement of regional conflicts; participation in the project to develop commercial transit routes from Central Asia to Europe via these countries, bypassing Russia; and delivery of Caspian oil across Georgia and the Black Sea to Ukraine and Moldova in order to reduce their dependence on Russian oil. The focus on these issues highlighted Azerbaijan’s, Georgia’s, and Moldova’s common interests — also shared by Ukraine — that had led to the creation of GUAM in the first place.

The Azerbaijani side agreed with the Moldovan and Georgian view — shared by Ukraine — that the trans-Georgia pipeline, due to become fully operational by autumn 1998, is best suited for transiting Caspian oil directly to Ukraine and Moldova. Pending that pipeline’s enlargement, Aliev and Lucinschi agreed on using the existing pipeline to Russia’s Novorossiisk port for initial deliveries of Azerbaijani oil to Moldova. Baku is considering using that route as a short-term expedient for its oil exports. Ukraine and Moldova each plan to discuss this month with Azerbaijan the commercial terms of oil deliveries.

In their statements for the public, the three presidents noted Moscow’s direct or indirect support for the Transdniester, Abkhaz, and Karabakh secessions. Shevardnadze cited the Russian "peacekeeping" troops’ pro-Abkhaz tilt and the Russian government’s recent, direct trade transactions with Abkhazia in violation of CIS resolutions. Lucinschi, observing that Moldova’s "painful trials parallel Georgia’s," appealed to international institutions to support both countries’ territorial integrity as well as that of Azerbaijan. "Russia’s predominance in the CIS intimidates and even scares member countries," the Moldovan president stated. "The CIS will only be viable if it rules out conflicts and secret deals." Welcoming Ukraine’s willingness to participate in peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia and Transdniester, Shevardnadze and Lucinschi further agreed to "strive in every way to increase the role of the UN and the OSCE" in the resolution of these conflicts. Aliev, for his part, described Russia’s continued military presence in Georgia and Armenia as "incomprehensible and unnecessary." He also said that Moscow’s alliance with CIS member Armenia against CIS member Azerbaijan is seriously damaging to the viability of the CIS.

Nevertheless, the three presidents carefully avoided sounding confrontational toward Moscow. They stated that GUAM is not directed against the interests of "any country," and chose publicly to emphasize GUAM’s economic rather than its political dimension. Similarly, they avoided leaving the impression that they were splitting the CIS; instead, they took the position that the CIS has not outlived its usefulness and that the summit scheduled for January in Moscow represents an opportunity to reform the organization. Shevardnadze, Aliev, and Lucinschi singly and jointly stressed that GUAM is intended as consultative grouping, not a bloc or alliance. Yet they stressed equally that GUAM is based on the four countries’ common interests on key issues and is planned for the long term. Just as significantly, they implied that the grouping has the potential to develop functionally and to acquire new members. (Flux, Basapress, Turan, Prime-News, Russian agencies, November 26-December 1)

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