Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 50

If certain members of GUUAM have decided to abandon that five-country group, they are proceeding with decorous discretion. Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova formed the group in 1998, with Uzbekistan joining in April 1999 during a Washington summit. The group’s primary intent was to counterbalance the influence of Moscow and its loyalists in CIS bodies, uphold the five countries’ common interests in international forums, align with Western positions in those forums, and reduce dependence on Russian fuels by supporting Caspian oil and gas transport routes around Russia. The countries also discussed the creation of joint units to provide security for oil and gas pipelines and possibly to perform peacekeeping missions.

GUUAM members jointly resisted Moscow’s attempts to revise the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe in ways which would have allowed Russia to keep ground forces in or near GUUAM countries. This signal achievement remains the group’s sole tangible one to date. Yet GUUAM seems at the moment to be fading out of the picture with an unfulfilled agenda, and even as its raison d’etre seems more valid than ever, in light of the rise of Vladimir Putin to power in Moscow. the group has recently skipped a number of prescheduled meetings at various levels, notably that of defense ministers, for reasons never made public but which are nevertheless apparent enough.

GUUAM has two weak links–Moldova and Uzbekistan. Already last year, Moldova–careful to avoid offending Russia–began skipping meetings and disclaiming interest in the group’s security functions. Considering Moldova’s multiple vulnerabilities, these defections made little difference in practical terms, but it did signify a political setback for the group as a whole.

In recent weeks, Uzbekistan has noticeably cooled toward GUUAM as a result of President Islam Karimov’s reconciliation with the Kremlin in the name of resisting “Islamic extremism.” Karimov seems oblivious to Azerbaijan’s demonstration that it is perfectly possible for a Muslim state to pursue a secular orientation without entering into risky alliances with Moscow. Uzbekistan’s size and relative strength in its region are such that its defection–if consummated–would significantly diminish GUUAM’s overall weight and influence.

GUUAM seems at the moment to have been reduced to a core which consists of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine and seems more latent than active at the moment. Should this trio decide to pursue GUUAM’s agenda, Ukraine seems destined to become its center of gravity in terms of common policy planning, security undertakings and possible peacekeeping missions. Ukraine’s rapidly developing relationship with NATO also fits in with Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s aspirations in the same area, providing a new basis for common actions–a basis which is absent in the case of Moldova and Uzbekistan. At this juncture, however, signals are overdue from Kyiv, Baku and Tbilisi with regard to the prospects of a leaner GUUAM–one presumably reduced to a GAU group of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine (Turan, January 28; UNIAN, March 2).