THE AMERICAN CONNECTION MIGHT CONSOLIDATE GUUAM.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 198

The world after September 11 offers an added raison d’etre to the countries in the GUUAM group of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Almost overnight, one member country–Uzbekistan–has become a de facto ally of the United States militarily and diplomatically. Once the antiterrorism operation in Afghanistan is completed, Uzbekistan will likely continue hosting American troops and enter also into close economic relations with the United States.

Georgia and Azerbaijan also aspire to develop de facto alliance relationships with the United States, and Ukraine is cultivating its distinctive partnership with NATO. These bilateral trends are to be seen in conjunction with Washington’s political support for GUUAM collectively and for its institutionalization, as expressed, for example, in Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s public statement on the occasion of GUUAM’s summit in Ukraine. All this creates new political opportunities for GUUAM to develop as a group, one common denominator of which is the American connection of the member countries.

In the post-September 11 geopolitics, Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan form the shortest route from NATO Europe to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, where the American-led forces need to be supplied by air today, and perhaps also overland tomorrow. According to recent press disclosures, an air supply route for humanitarian relief to Afghanistan runs from the American air base at Ramstein in Germany, over Ukraine, the Black Sea, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan and on to Afghanistan.

On this route, the U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo planes are being escorted by American fighter jets. This necessary protection inevitably blurs the distinction, which some countries have sought to draw, between civilian and military overflight rights. While Russia seems to insist on making that distinction, Turkmenistan apparently does not enforce it. Should it do so, Kazakhstan can provide a connection between Uzbekistan and the rest of GUUAM. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev was among the first heads of state to offer both civilian and military overflight rights to the United States after September 11.

Ukraine granted such rights for U.S. military transport planes by a decision of the National Security and Defense Council and a decree of President Leonid Kuchma, both dated September 24. Subsequently, in cooperation with the U.S. military attache’s office, Ukraine earmarked a number of airfields at which American planes may land in “unforeseen situations.” Kuchma has also publicly offered to supply arms to Uzbekistan. At least one telephone conversation between Kuchma and President Islam Karimov registered–according to the official press release–“the presidents’ consensus to develop cooperation and political consultations within GUUAM.”

From day one of the antiterrorist operation, Georgia made its airspace and land infrastructure available to the U.S. and allied forces. In Moscow, the Foreign Affairs Ministry accused Georgia of practicing double standards. The Russian statement asked rhetorically why Georgia is hospitable to Western forces if, at the same time, Tbilisi seeks the removal of Russian forces from the country. President Eduard Shevardnadze, who visited the United States earlier this month, declared in Tbilisi afterward that “Georgia would provide America with any form of support within Georgia’s means to combat terrorism. Joint operations are not ruled out.” Last week, Georgian Defense Minister Davit Tevzadze let it be known informally that he had written to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, offering to send a Georgian squad trained for mountain warfare in support of possible U.S. ground operations in Afghanistan.

Azerbaijan is also firmly if quietly supporting the American-led campaign. On October 15, American Secretary of State Colin Powell confirmed that Azerbaijan “has granted the U.S. overflight rights [and] the use of its air bases, and has provided critical intelligence cooperation.” In the last two weeks, U.S. Air Force Hercules transport planes have repeatedly been spotted, occasionally in pairs, on refueling stops in Azerbaijan, en route to Central Asia. According to Novruz Mamedov, head of President Haidar Aliev’s foreign policy staff, the U.S. planes carry “both humanitarian aid and equipment for the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan”–a veiled reference to military equipment.

Meanwhile, Moldova continues acting as GUUAM’s little odd man out. It seems also out of synch with events, out of touch with its natural partners, and out of clues as to how to use emerging opportunities. The country’s new foreign affairs minister, Nicolae Dudau, a veteran apparatchik, happens to be a former ambassador to Uzbekistan. He now has an opportunity to capitalize on that connection in the interest of Moldova’s international standing and of GUUAM as a group (Roundup based on recent reporting by the Unian, Prime-News, Turan, Zhahon, Interfax, and Western news agencies; see also the Monitor, September 18, 24, 26, October 2-3, 8; Fortnight in Review, September 28, October 12).

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