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GUAM: background, organization’s future and Ukraine’s role

Source: Moldova.org

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable IX
“Ukraine’s Regional Commitments”

GUAM: background, organization’s future and Ukraine’s role

Vlad Spânu


Moldova Foundation President Vlad Spanu’s featured remarks at the panel “Divining Role of Ukraine in GUAM” at the Conference “Ukraine Quest Roundtable IX: Ukraine’s Regional Commitments” held on Oct. 16, 2008, Thomas Jefferson Building, US Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

The initial purpose of establishing GUAM (the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development), started by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova (named after the initial letters of each country), was to focus the new group on finding solutions for mainly two problems that were not tackled properly within the existing organization where all four countries were members – in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The first of these issues is the cooperation on regional security; the second-cooperation on energy.

So it is worth to remind us how it began. Although formally GUAM was established on October 10, 1997, in Strasbourg (by the Declaration signed by the presidents of four countries at the European Council Summit), it all started in 1996. The GUAM kicked off with a consultative forum in 1996 while experts discussing the issues of their security in line with the CFE Treaty (Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe) in Vienna. The problem had two folds: cementing a common position regarding Russian troops and munitions in Moldova and Georgia; and the second – the separatist conflicts in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova.

The geography played an important role in identifying the energy transportation as another area of common interest for GUAM, where Azerbaijan is an energy producer and Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova are located along the Caspian Sea-Western Europe transportation corridor.

Why these CIS member-countries felt they need to create a different group? It was not that the group of four wanted to create an anti-Russia entity inside CIS, as many in Moscow want to believe. Separatist movements in Azerbaijan-Nagorno-Karabakh, in Georgia-Abkhazia and South Ossetia and in Moldova – Transnistria were and still are barriers for these countries to develop economically and fully become independent and sovereign. Initially, it seemed naturally that all problems could be solved within the CIS and the four countries have tried to solve their problems there. So, GUAM countries made several attempts to discuss within CIS the conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia (all three having in common one element – the presence of Russian troops there and full Russian control over the regions’ administration, a de facto occupation of these regions) and in Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have raised complaints against restrictions imposed by Russia against exports originated from these three countries. And finally, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova supported Ukraine’s proposal to CIS to condemn the Holodomor, the 1932-1933 famine in Ukraine, as genocide. All attempts failed due to Russia’s opposition to discuss these problems and to identify solutions acceptable to all parties.

In 2004-2006, GUAM member states intensified their cooperation, working on building the legal framework that would allow them to cooperate in infrastructure projects and in establishing a free trade area. The countries were planning to implement two major projects: the GUAM Trade and Transportation Facilitation project aimed at fostering trade by promoting more efficient and less costly trade flows across the borders and the GUAM Virtual Center for combating terrorism, organized crime, and trafficking. The virtual center is designed to serve as a focal point for communication, analysis, and exchange of operational information in real time, as well as facilitate joint operations and coordinate major crime investigations.

Some critics say GUAM initiative overlaps with other regional cooperation groups. CIS was mentioned above, but also with the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC), established in 1992 that has 12 member-countries and some 18 observers (countries and international organizations). Well, during the last 15-16 years both CIS and BSEC did not prove yet that they are able to efficiently accomplish any tangible results for their members. What is different with GUAM is that the four countries have more in common than differences, unlike the other two organizations where it is harder for countries like Greece and Turkey to find common ground in BSEC or Azerbaijan and Armenia in CIS and BSEC.

The problem is that the GUAM countries were not allowed to fully exercise their willingness to cooperate within GUAM. Russia was trying hard to dismantle it with some success. Just to mention Uzbekistan, which joined GUAM in 1999, in Washington, at the NATO summit, renaming it in GUUAM? It longed until 2005 when it officially withdrew, but de facto Uzbekistan started to ignore GUAM since 2002 due to Russia’s pressure. Moldova’s position within GUAM is another case in point. Periodically, the Kremlin put forward to the government of the Republic of Moldova the condition to withdraw from GUAM or at least to limit its participation in exchange for Russia’s cooperation on the Transnistrian conflict issues. Unfortunately, Moldova has fallen into that trap in the last several years and this country is lagging behind in regard to the GUAM cooperation. The Moldovan officials stated numerous times that it would limit its cooperation to economic projects, rejecting participation in Ukraine’s proposal on GUAM peacekeeping forces and other similar initiatives.

What is the future of GUAM?

The Russian aggression against Georgia in August 2008 was a real test for the other three GUAM countries. An ancient proverb known to us through the writings of Quintus Ennius from the Roman Republic in the 3rd century BC states: ‘Amicu certus in re incerta cernitur’. This translates from the Latin as ‘a sure friend is known when in difficulty’. Or as we know it in English “a friend in need is a friend indeed”. Most of you seen on your TV screens the Freedom Square in Tbilisi on August 12, where the leaders of Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania spoke at a rally in the Georgian capital. These five countries were Georgia’s best friends in the days of Russia’s invasion, coming to Tbilisi, risking their lives, to express their solidarity with President Mikheil Saakashvili and the Georgian people.

From GUAM members, only Ukraine was present in those tough days supporting Tbilisi. Azerbaijan and Moldova, for their own reasons, did not show publicly their support to Georgia. And, if looking closely, you cannot blame them. For Azerbaijan it was difficult. After August 8th, it remained the only country in the Caucasus that did not have Russian troops on its soil. And a bold move of Baku could trigger unpredictable reaction either of Russia or Armenia. So, it played safe. As for Moldova, the situation was even worse. Having the similar settings as in Georgia with a Russia-controlled separatist region in Transnistria, which could provoked a military conflict as it was the case in South Ossetia, the mood in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau, those days were of a real fear of a possible Russian invasion.

Let’s remind us what Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko has said on August 12th in the most difficult time for Georgia and for the countries in the region since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“You have the right to freedom and independence. We are here to demonstrate our solidarity … freedom is worth fighting for,” said President Yushchenko.

I commend the Ukrainian leader for his actions those days, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affiars fo Ukraine that stated its opposition against using the Russian navy stationed in Sevastopol in the war against Georgia.

We can draw a conclusion from those actions that democratic seeds of the Orange and Rose revolutions, with all their ups and downs, could mature into healthy fruits should the democratic process in Ukraine and Georgia continues. So far, among the four countries, only Georgia and Ukraine have shown a deep commitment to democratic values although it is not over yet, while Moldova and Azerbaijan are still struggling to get there.

What at least the GUAM countries can do on the security issues is to come with coordinated policies and common positions within international organizations such as United Nations, OSCE or in their bilateral dialog with the European Union, the United States and the Russian Federation.

At its last summits GUAM has attracted attention of many countries and international organizations. Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, United States, Turkey, Japan, OSCE, BSEC, UNESCO – all participated at summits as observers. GUAM still has the potential to create a new cooperation dynamics in the region. Especially now, when the countries in the region, but also the rest of the world, have come to the understanding what threat Russia poses to the stability and peace in the region, due to its military aggression in Georgia and its reborn imperial ambitions elsewhere.

The four countries should get back to the basics of their initial intentions of cooperation: energy and security. These two issues proved to be the most important for the survival of the four countries and for preserving their independence and territorial integrity. They should focus on projects that can bring visible results. One of it is the Transnistrian conflict.

Ukraine, as a leading actor in GUAM, can and should play an active role in solving the Transnistrian conflict, which is in its backyard. Especially due to the fact that Transnistrian region, which is part of Moldova now, was part of Ukraine before 1940, in the aftermath of the Soviet incorporation of Bessarabia, as a result of the Kremlin-imposed exchange of territories between Moldova and Ukraine. This historical fact as well as Ukraine and Moldova’s proximity and good relations give more arguments why Ukraine should become the key player in the conflict resolution in Transnistria. It is important to underline that when Chisinau and Kiev have bilaterial discussions about the solutions of the Transnistrian conflict the separatists in Tiraspol and their Moscow supporters are very nervous. After 1992 till 2005, Ukraine was a passive mediator in the Transnistrian conflict, at best. At worst, Kiev’s actions were not aimed at the prevention of the conflict but vice-versa: in 1992, allowing Kazaks paramilitary formations from Russia and from Ukraine to march in route to Transnistria to fight Moldovan government forces; later, allowing smuggling of arms and goods through its territory to and from the Transnistrian region via the Port of Odessa.

Fortunately, since 2005, President Victor Yushchenko and governments of Ukraine reversed that course, coming at the negotiation table with their own ideas on the conflict resolution, cooperating with the European Union and the Moldovan government on monitoring its western border with Moldova. And Ukraine needs to do this for its own security reasons. Looking at the map, one can see that Ukraine is encircled by Russia or Russian military bases: from the North (via Belarus), to East and to the South (With Russian Navy stationed in Sevastopol). The only window Ukraine has is the West. But Ukraine has the Transnistrian conflict on its Western border and the Russian military forces station there, thus, preventing Ukraine from having that window. Therefore, it is in Ukraine’s national interest to contribute positively further to the final resolution of the Transnistrian conflict and evacuation of the Russian troops out of Moldova.

Another avenue Ukraine has to fully explore is the energy, by promoting natural gas and oil pipelines that would ensure energy diversification for the region and for the European Union by bringing Caspian gas and oil to Western Europe.

Today, Ukraine is in better position than its GUAM partners to lead in promoting the cooperation in the region and Kiev should take full advantage of it.