GUAM Celebrates its Tenth Anniversary

UA Historical Encounters III:
GUAM/Black and Caspian Sea Cooperation

GUAM Celebrates its Tenth Anniversary in New York

Taras Kuzio

The four nations of the GUAM regional organisation – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova – celebrated their tenth anniversary in an event held in New York University; the event was co-organized by NYU, the GUAM country UN missions and the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations.  Two of the member countries ambassadors, deputy Georgian Ambassador and other senior members of the four countries UN delegations attended the one day seminar planned to discuss different aspects of GUAM (

Discussions to establish a regional group in the CIS began among Azeri and Ukrainian diplomats in Vienna in 1995 and the organisation was officially launched in Strasbourg in 1997. Two years later Uzbekistan joined GUAM at the Washington summit set to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding NATO.

Uzbekistan suspended its membership in GUAM in 2002 and formally withdrew from the organisation in May 2005 after international outcry over the Andijon massacre of protestors. Uzbekistan had become increasingly uncomfortable at the growing emphasis upon democratic development in GUAM.

In 2006 GUAM renamed itself GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM ODED) and established its headquarters in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was the GUAM ODED first secretary general. The Kyiv office of GUAM became operational in January 2007 with a relatively small budget of $500,000.

GUAM countries were brought together by security concerns and common views of the undesirability of transforming the CIS into a supranational organisation. Three of the GUAM members have frozen conflicts from the late Soviet era (Transdniestr, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh) while Ukraine has the Crimea, an area with an ethnic Russian majority and restive Tatars.

Three of the GUAM members also have Russian military bases on their territory. Russia agreed to withdraw its bases from Moldova and Georgia at the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul, but has continued to renege on this agreement. The Russian Black Sea Fleet has an agreement to remain in the Crimea until 2017. NATO enlargement to Georgia and Ukraine would therefore bring in two countries with Russian bases, a new development for NATO.

In the EU integration proceeds in two-track way with members seeking different levels of integration, one group deeper with the Euro and a Common Security and Defence Policy and another seeking to maintain greater national sovereignty over monetary and fiscal policy as well continued reliance on NATO as Europe’s primary security institution. The CIS is the same as the EU with a fast track integration group centered on Russia, Belarus, Armenia and the Central Asian states who are members of the CIS Collective Security Organization. GUAM represents the slow track group with its members either seeking NATO membership (Georgia, Ukraine) or deep levels of cooperation through the Partnership for Peace program (Azerbaijan).

A major issue discussed during the one day New York conference was integration of two of the GUAM members into NATO – Georgia and Ukraine. This would be the most difficult enlargement that NATO had faced as NATO would cross the “red line” of what Russia considers its sphere of influence, the CIS. Besides Russian military bases in both countries, Georgia also has two frozen conflicts. The bases are not seen as an obstacle by the US as they relate to bilateral Georgian and Ukrainian agreements with Russia. In the case of the frozen conflicts, NATO views are divided over whether bringing in Georgia would speed up a resolution of the conflicts or permanently freeze them in Russia’s favour.

The one day conference focused on how the frozen conflicts could be re-defined from cases of ‘separatism’ to ‘terrorism’. Russia was able to convince many countries that Chechnya was a case of international terrorism and this became one factor that improved relations between Russia and Turkey. One speaker argued that Russia has both suffered from terrorism and promoted terrorism in frozen conflicts (as well as in the murder of regime opponents abroad). The Moldovan and Georgian frozen conflicts are further examples of externally inspired terrorism. The Azerbaijani Ambassador argued that Nagorno Karabakh was different in that this was a case of a neighbouring state annexing territory.

Through continuing to economically subsidize the frozen conflict zones, and by illegally giving their citizens Russian passports, Russia is also contributing to soft security threats to Europe. All of the frozen conflict enclaves are kept afloat by illegal activities that include the distribution of military equipment, narcotics, people and other contraband.

These soft security threats make it imperative that the EU follows the US lead in devoting greater attention to GUAM. The US has supported GUAM since its inception through diplomatic and financial support. The EU has largely ignored GUAM and fails to send its diplomatic delegations to attend GUAM summits.

A speaker at the one day conference proposed that GUAM act in the same manner as earlier regional organisations, such as the Visegrad group, when dealing with the EU. GUAM countries are included in the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) initiated in 2003-2004 but the ENP includes countries that are eligible under the 1957 Treaty of Rome for EU membership (i.e. the GUAM group) and those who are not (i.e. Northern Africa and the Middle East).

The conference argued that GUAM should seek to obtain an ENP+ Privileged Partnership with that differentiates them from non-geographic European members of the ENP. The Azerbaijani delegation pointed to the similarities and dissimilarities of frozen conflicts in GUAM and those in the Balkans. In the Western Balkans the EU introduced Stabilisation and Accession Agreements (SAA) in 1999-2000 with the aim of inducing the countries to not return to civil war. Macedonia became a candidate country for EU membership in 2001 not because it had accomplished any reforms but as a way of inducing both sides to the civil war to turn to peace negotiations. Three GUAM countries experienced similar conflicts as the Western Balkans but the EU has not offered them SAA’s.

GUAM has developed the GUAM+ (Plus) forums with the US, EU and with Japan, whose UN diplomatic representation attended the conference. GUAM has strongly lobbied for the “internationalisation” of the frozen conflicts in order to bring in the EU and UN. The Georgian and Azeri delegations to the conference stressed the importance of the EU increasing its intermediary presence in their two frozen conflicts in the same manner as the EU has intervened in the Transdniestr conflict.

The pending Kosovo declaration of independence came up on a number of occasions as a step that could encourage Russia to use Kosovo as a precedent for the frozen conflict enclaves in GUAM. Views were divided as to whether Russia would go down this route because of its own separatist conflict in Chechnya. New York University Associate Professor Joshua Tucker suggested that Russia preferred “ambivalence” as this would give it greater ability to achieve its strategic goals. Another speaker pointed out that if Kosovo was to be a precedent for the frozen conflicts than the same precedent could apply to Turkey, Canada, Spain, France and Belgium. The Turkish diplomatic representation promised to raise this issue with Russia.

In May 2006 the Ukrainian Defence Ministry announced plans to establish GUAM peacekeeping forces which became formalised three months later. In September 2006 the first meeting of GUAM security services and law enforcement officials met in Baku to discuss a common strategy to comba
t terrorism.

An intriguing question discussed during the conference was the possible addition of Belarus as a fifth GUAM member. Seton Hall University Associate Professor Margarita Balmaceda argued that Belarus was forced to adopt a more multi-vector foreign policy after relations deteriorated during the 2007 gas crisis with Russia. If Belarus was to join GUAM the organisation would include a corridor of countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black Seas that would greatly enhance the success of the energy corridor.

Finally, GUAM was positively contrasted to the CIS. The former was portrayed as a forward looking organisation still in its infancy whereas the CIS was an organisation united on the basis of the past. More unites GUAM members than does that of the 12 countries of the CIS. Inter-GUAM and inter-CIS relations are also very different as seen in how Russia has used the energy weapon in its relations with Belarus and Ukraine, a very strategy to that of Azerbaijan taking up the shortfall in the supply of gas to Georgia caused by its inability to pay Russia’s massive increased gas prices that were raised to Western European levels.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a Research Associate in the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.
This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it