Delegates of the GUAM member countries — Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova — held a meeting of their own during the October 17 Minsk session of the Commonwealth of Independent States Council of Foreign Ministers (see EDM, October 18). This informal GUAM meeting issued a firm statement of support for Georgia in connection with Russia’s economic and political assault on that country.
Read out by Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Volodymyr Ohryzko, the GUAM statement “calls for renouncing unilateral actions toward Georgia such as interruption of economic, humanitarian, and other inter-state relations. The existing problems, including conflict-settlement, must be solved through negotiations in line with internationally valid norms and international law, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and inviolability of borders.” While welcoming Russia’s commitment to close its bases in Georgia (Batumi and Akhalkalaki) by 2008, the GUAM countries “support Georgia’s initiatives to resolve the conflicts on its territory, specifically its proposals to internationalize the peacekeeping operations and negotiating formats. GUAM countries call on other CIS member countries to support common efforts toward overcoming the crisis in Russia-Georgia relations” (Interfax-Ukraine, October 17).
Within the deeply divided Ukrainian government, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Borys Tarasyuk champions a Western orientation and active regional role, and Ohryzko is a Tarasyuk confidant.
By contrast, the Ukrainian delegation to the GUAM Parliamentary Assembly’s autumn session in Chisinau on October 14-15 was partly responsible for the failure to issue a statement of support for Georgia. The Communist vice-chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Adam Martynyuk, led that delegation and openly rebuffed the Georgian Parliament’s chairwoman, Nino Burjanadze, during the proceedings. The Rada’s chairman and Socialist Party leader, Oleksandr Moroz, did not attend the Assembly’s session and sniped at it from Kyiv.
At the session, Burjanadze pleaded for support from countries that share broadly similar problems with Russia: “I am calling on the GUAM member states to support Georgia and to contribute to solving the current crisis. A joint position by the GUAM countries in support of Georgia would ensure that tomorrow Russia will not take similar actions against other countries where it wishes to maintain its influence” (Interfax, October 15).
The other two chairmen of parliaments — Marian Lupu of Moldova and Oktai Asadov of Azerbaijan — argued that GUAM countries should first and foremost concentrate on stepping up mutual trade and economic relations, rather than on “political” issues. Lupu made his own plea to Georgia to understand Moldova’s position: “I am speaking from the bottom of my heart: We are with you. But now, with winter drawing closer and in a difficult economic situation, we should focus on solving economic problems and boosting cooperation, rather than adopting declarative documents” (Interfax, October 15).
Ultimately the Georgian delegation had to withdraw its request, and the session’s final resolution merely called for conflict-resolution exclusively through peaceful means.
Both on the eve and on the morrow of the Assembly’s session, the Moldovan parliament declined to include in its agenda a proposal by several opposition deputies to draft and adopt a resolution of support for Georgia.
With such reticence, the Moldovan Parliament seems to be forgetting the support that Burjanadze personally and other Georgian parliamentarians more generally had extended to Moldova within OSCE, GUAM, and other international forums in recent years. In Chisinau, most decisions on the parliament’s positions on foreign policy issues are made at the presidential level. Thus, the failure to support Georgia at this session is not imputable to Lupu.
In their bilateral meeting, Burjanadze and Lupu jointly called for internationalizing the “peacekeeping” operations and negotiation formats for conflict-settlement.
The Moldovan media greeted Burjanadze with reticence. It was mainly the Christian-Democrat People’s Party daily Flux — the top-circulation political daily — that gave Burjanadze’s viewpoint due space and attention (Flux, October 16).
GUAM’s Kyiv summit in May had tasked the Parliamentary Assembly’s Policy Committee to present in Chisinau a set of proposals for joint steps toward settling the frozen conflicts. At the Chisinau session, however, the Committee requested additional time to work out such proposals for presentation at the Assembly’s Baku session in spring 2007.
However, the Committee issued a proposal to the GUAM Council of Foreign Ministers to create a GUAM peacekeeping unit and to apply for a UN or an OSCE mandate to conduct peacekeeping operations. Some preliminary consultations were held in recent months on that issue. At a key meeting in Baku by Defense Ministry experts, however, Moldova was absent and no decisions were taken. For the time being, this issue seems to have been relegated from the executive-branch level to the symbolic, parliamentary level.
In Kyiv during the Assembly’s Chisinau session, Moroz declared that the recently held referendum in Transnistria had expressed the “people’s view,” which must be respected but also balanced against international law, the indivisibility of territory, and the inviolability of borders. Ukraine should take the same position regarding the upcoming referendum in South Ossetia, Moroz claimed (Interfax-Ukraine, October 17). This comment closely follows Moscow’s latest official statements on this issue. Moroz had made a similar statement during his October 12-13 visit to Moscow. Specifically opposing any involvement of GUAM in conflict-resolution issues, Moroz called for leaving such issues to the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Interfax-Ukraine, October 13).
Ultimately, GUAM’s joint position on these and other issues will in large measure be determined by the outcome of the ongoing contest over Ukraine’s foreign policy, as well as by the evolution of bilateral relations between each GUAM member country and Russia. Given Russia’s ability at present to cast a shadow over Ukraine’s political processes, intimidate Moldova, and play its cards in Azerbaijan, GUAM is experiencing difficulty in groping for a common voice and role.