Wednesday, 20 June 2001

THE GUUAM SUMMIT: TOWARD A NEW YALTA ORDER FOR THE CIS?

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By Khatuna Salukvadze (6/20/2001 issue of the CACI Analyst)

BACKGROUND: The initial GUAM grouping (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) came into being in 1996 in the process of the talks on the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. The four had in common their opposition to Russia’s dominant position in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), expressed through its military presence on their territories. When Uzbekistan joined in 1999, GUAM became GUUAM.

BACKGROUND: The initial GUAM grouping (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) came into being in 1996 in the process of the talks on the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. The four had in common their opposition to Russia’s dominant position in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), expressed through its military presence on their territories. When Uzbekistan joined in 1999, GUAM became GUUAM. The grouping emphasizes that it is not directed against any country or group of states, but that their cooperation stemmed from similar interests in many priority areas. Particularly, the idea of an Eurasian transportation and energy corridor was crucial, as were new energy routes that would reduce these countries’ dependence on Russia for energy supplies and transit.

The Yalta Summit had two ambitious issues on the agenda: the political institutionalization of the organization, and the creation of a single free trade zone among the member states. The transformation of this informal coalition into a permanent international organization became problematic mainly due to the opposition of Moldova’s communist president Vladimir Voronin. However, the organization will still have its own information center in Kiev. A further step towards the institutionalized coordination is expected at the next summit. The summit has been under the close watch of the Russian media who fears the strengthening of GUUAM as the alternative mode of cooperation for CIS. In fact, Russia has been active in inhibiting the preparations for the summit. Moscow’s policy views GUUAM as a dangerous rival in a zero-sum game with the CIS, dismissing any partnership prospects.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage welcomed the summit as further step in closer cooperation between the member states and stated that 'they can look forward to a very positive cooperation with the United States'. He took up the line of the previous administration in strengthening the GUUAM-US dialogue. In a parallel development, the newly appointed Senior Advisor for Caspian Energy Diplomacy Steven Mann, during his visit to Georgia, pledged US support for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Shah Deniz projects. The visit of Senator Brownback to some GUUAM countries before the summit was also widely perceived as connected to the event.

IMPLICATIONS: At the summit, the heads of the states kept ensuring that the group is aimed at promoting trade and economic interests of the member states and coordinating their foreign policy activities within regional and global organizations, including the CIS. Despite this assertion, Russia still suspects that the grouping wants to bypass Russia. It condemns GUUAM's departure from the grouping’s initial focus on Caspian oil and gas pipelines and Eurasian transport projects, and charges that the coalition is stepping up military cooperation. The proposed cooperation against separatism and terrorism is perceived as having a visible anti-Russian motivation: this is not surprising, given Russia’s major role in the escalation of the separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, while in Moldova and Ukraine backing Russian secessionist movements in Transdniester and Crimea, and allegations of links to Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians.

Russia’s accusations against GUAAM countries over their joint military efforts are largely exaggerated. It is a fact that the GUUAM members acknowledge Russia’s interests in the region. After Russia’s refusal to attend the summit in the status of observer, president Kuchma of the Ukraine declined other international observers as well. Moldova is the most vulnerable to Russian pressure and was even expected to leave the grouping, yet at the summit, president Voronin declared Moldova’s commitment to the EU and NATO. Uzbekistan’s recent politics has shown certain detachment from GUUAM and a rapprochement with Russia. President Karimov opposed the creation of a free economic zone on the ground of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership of the World Trade Organization. While Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan are seeking to delicately balance their foreign policy between an economic pull toward Russia and political aspirations toward West, the staunch pro-western stance of Georgia and Azerbaijan is the most irritating for Russia.

Divergent national security interests will also limit the scope of GUUAM military cooperation. Georgia and Azerbaijan are interested in the creation of military units for pipeline protection, and more distantly, would like to join NATO. Uzbekistan is interested in protection from Islamic fundamentalism, Moldova in controlling the Transdniester region, and the Ukraine in balancing conflicting lines in its foreign policy.

At the summit, Georiga's President Shevardnadze floated the idea of enlargement of GUUAM. Although there are some indications from certain countries (Romania, Bulgaria, and less so Turkey) to join the group, the further expansion of GUUAM is unlikely for the time being. Many doubt that the European states will join the club of weak ex-Soviet states with their turbulent economics and social tensions let alone the security problems. Armenia is not expected to join the group, as it is Russia’s main ally in the region, and given its relations with Azerbaijan.

CONCLUSIONS: The only certainty for GUUAM is that the group’s future is likely to be determined by the level of economic cooperation between its members. If the group is to succeed in the creation of a free trade zone, GUUAM will become a strong alternative to the CIS, whose convention on free trade is ineffective. Indeed, the establishment of GUUAM radically differs from the integration processes within the CIS, which was created on a negative impulse to restore the past and give Russia political leverage, while the aspirations of GUUAM countries are based on economic logic and a desire to strengthen regional stability and security.

More immediately important, the US support for specific energy sector shapes the only feasible direction for GUUAM’s future activities. Successful cooperation in this sector will require the implementation of practical measures in other sectors of coordinated activities, such as harmonization of national trade, customs and border legislation, and, to a certain degree, strengthening pipeline protection capabilities upon the relevant legal basis.

AUTHOR BIO: Khatuna Salukvadze is an Advisor to the Georgian Parliament’s Committee on Defense and Security, and a former Fellow of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of the Johns Hopkins University-SAIS. Ms. Salukvadze received her M.Sc. in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science. The views expressed here do not in any way represent those of the Parliament of Georgia or the Government of Georgia.

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The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.

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