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The GUUAM summit

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Igor Botan / April 17, 2005
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The interest of Moldovan authorities for GUUAM

Chisinau will host the GUUAM summit on April 22. The interest for this regional structure has reappeared in Moldova with a couple of weeks before the March 6 parliamentary elections. Indeed, the authorities had pleaded for upgrading of the GUUAM about half a year ago. The attitude towards GUUAM was more than reticent until then. Vladimir Voronin said after being elected as chief of state in 2001 that Moldova would withdraw from GUUAM because this organisation follows anti-Russian goals.

There were many reasons after all, with all of them being related to the support of the Russian Federation for the Transdnestrian separatist regime, and they made the Moldovan authorities reconsider their attitude towards GUUAM in the past half a year, and two of these motives were decisive: a) the refusal of the Russian Federation to back the initiative on the Stability and Security Pact for Moldova (SSPM) released by President Voronin on June 1, 2004; b) repeated threats of the Russian State Duma to introduce economic sanctions against Moldova for its attitude towards the Transdnestrian separatist regime, with the threats aiming to obstruct the reelection of Vladimir Voronin as chief of state.

The evolution of attitude of Moldovan authorities towards GUUAM is interesting from these reasons. At the very beginning, President Voronin believed that implementation of the SSPM would ensure a “multilateral compromise” between Russia, the United States, Romania, Ukraine, and the European Union (EU) “on a number of principle problems of Moldovan statehood…representing the guarantee of a long-term stability in this region.” The compromise was clearly envisaging the Transdnestria settlement. Voronin mentioned then that if the sides fail to reach a mutual agreement, this “failure would have evident impacts on stability and security in region.” The SSPM was the first resonance initiative released by the chief of state, aimed to search new solutions to the Transdnestrian conflict, after the confusion related to refusal to sign the “Kozak Memorandum” in November 2003. Launching the SSPM, the Moldovan authorities wanted to avoid any actions which could provoke negative reactions from Russia. Perhaps this is the explanation why President Voronin had turned down the invitation of newly-elected Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to attend the GUUAM summit in Batumi after Abashidze’s run to Moscow.

As it was mentioned already the attitude towards GUUAM was changed after Russia had categorically turned down the SSPM. Russia’s ostentatious support for the Transdnestrian separatist regime after failure of the “Kozak Memorandum”, as well as the refusal to withdraw its military and ammunition from the eastern region of Moldova, required new approaches of problems related to settlement of the Transdnestrian conflict. As it seems, it was reached a conclusion that the approach of this issue, including through a regional organisation to which Russia is not member with its typical interests in Transdnestria, would be a solution in this regard. GUUAM is the only structure of this kind.

It is interesting to highlight that the public authorities did not adopt any important documents on GUUAM till Russia’s refusal to back the SSPM, though Moldova is part of this organisation since 1997. Instead, the situation has significantly changed after the Russian authorities turned down the SSPM, especially after the December 6–7, 2004 OSCE summit in Sofia, which discussed this initiative. The government order on creation of a task force to draft and implement the national plan on implementation of the project on facilitation of trade and transportation within GUUAM was published on December 10, 2004, and the plan was worked out and unveiled on February 25, 2005. Also, the government included the 17,300-dollar GUUAM membership fee for 2005 in the decision on payment of membership fees and debts of Moldova towards international and regional organisations from the 2005 state budget, published on January 28, 2005.

As it was said, this change of attitude towards GUUAM had one more justification. The lawmakers of the Russian State Duma, who initiated the adoption of three resolutions by the Russian State Duma last February, recommending the executive to apply economic sanctions against Moldova, publicly admitted that they wanted to obstruct Party of Moldovan Communists (PCRM) from winning the March 6 parliamentary elections and to halt the reelection of Vladimir Voronin as Moldova’s chief of state. This sort of ostentatious actions of the State Duma made President Voronin behave the necessary way. His initiative to pay a flash visit to Kiev on March 1 in order to discuss a number of problems including the upgrading of GUUAM with President Viktor Yushchenko, as well as the immediately accepted invitation to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to visit Moldova on March 2, made the impression of some coordinated actions including with influent foreign political centres.

Undoubtedly, this initiative means that the Moldovan authorities decided to join the Carpathian Declaration on European development of Ukraine and Georgia, signed by Presidents Yushchenko and Saakashvili in early January 2005. President Voronin and his counterparts Yushchenko and, respectively, Saakashvili discussed on March 1 and 2 almost the same set of issues related to: a) regional security and combat of separatism; b) diversification of energy providing sources; c) upgrading of GUUAM for a joint settlement of regional problems; d) coordination of efforts for European integration. It was decided to convoke the GUUAM summit in Chisinau on April 22 for a better approach of these problems.

Development perspectives of GUUAM

Expectations related to the GUUAM summit generated both optimism, and much scepticism. Indeed, a first positive effect of convocation of the GUUAM summit in Chisinau was already observed in the internal policy of Moldova. One part of opposition gave up intention to block up the election of Moldovan president, with the need to set up the new central power bodies after elections and before the GUUAM summit being one of reasons invoked in this regard. As a result, the parliament ratified on April 15 the following documents under emergency regime: a) Yalta Chart of GUUAM, the basic juridical document on constitution of organisation; b) GUUAM agreement on creation of free trade zone; c) agreement on creation of the GUUAM Information Office. However, the development perspectives of GUUAM after upgrading leave room for many questions related to:

Interests and cohesion level of GUUAM-member states

At the very beginning, the tasks of the GUUAM-member states aimed to join efforts in order to ensure the conditions needed for an economic growth based on: development and implementation of joint projects on economics, trade, transportation, communications, financial cooperation; border, customs, scientific, etc. cooperation. Later, as the GUUAM members faced defiance, the tasks were reformulated: peaceful settlement of regional conflicts on basis of principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, inviolability of borders; combat of aggressive separatism and international terrorism; coordination of cooperation of member states with international institutions (United Nations, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Council of Europe, Consultative Group of member states of Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, etc.)

However, a series of political and economic factors had jeopardized the development of GUUAM in the past years. The political factors comprise first of all the conflicts in member countries, for example between Moldova and Ukraine regarding the attitude towards the Transdnestrian separatism regime. Secondly, the West’s attitude over the former Ukrainian administration of president Kuchma made the latter seriously consider the possibility to mainly focus on Russia-promoted projects — the Euro-Asiatic Economic Union, Joint Economic Space, etc.

As for economic factors, Russia had efficiently used the opportunities to defend its economic interests and to demonstrate the economic flabbiness of GUUAM. The decision to start the construction of the petrol pipe Baku-Tbilisi-Cheyhan had significantly reduced the interest of Azerbaijan and Georgia for transit of petrol through territories of other GUUAM states, as the Azerbaijani oil reserves were insufficient for building of other pipes. Once Russia had joined the Baku-Tbilisi-Cheyhan project, it found other energy compromise solutions with Azerbaijan, making this country more reticent over projects of GUUAM. The Russian authorities and oil business had successfully persuaded the former Kiev administration to use the Odessa-Brody pipe under reverse regime, contrary to initial plans on exportation of Caspian petrol to Poland’s borders and further enlargement of the pipe to Gdansk. As this pipe surrounded Moldova’s territory, the latter regarded this gesture as elimination from GUUAM projects, showing a similar behaviour towards this organisation. Nor Uzbekistan was forgotten, as the Gazprom concern signed agreements on exploitation and transportation of gas with this country as well. In addition, estimations of Russian experts aim to demonstrate that China’s increasing interest for energy resources could offer a better perspective to countries in the Caspian Sea basin and Central Asia to export hydrocarbons to this country with an impressive economic potential. It also means that there are evident contradictions between the EU and USA regarding the exportation of energy resources of Iran to the West.

If we add that the volume of mutual trade represents only two percent of the total volume of external trade of GUUAM states, we can conclude that mainly political factors and less economic factors dictated the upgrading of GUUAM so far.

The upgrading of GUUAM really follows the beginning of a new electoral cycle in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. Russia’s direct meddling in elections in Abkhazya, Ukraine and Moldova; support for separatism in Georgia and Moldova; incitement for separatism in Ukraine through participation of Russian officials in the December 10, 2004 Severodonetsk congress seem to decisively determine the upgrading of GUUAM. It seems that the GUUAM-member states had reached the conclusion that defiance provoked by foreign meddling can be stopped only through joint efforts within this regional organisation. For example, the individual efforts of Georgia and Moldova to eliminate the risks related to the separatist regimes supported by Russia are viewed and understood in one way in Brussels and Washington. For sure, the same efforts of a regional organisation such as GUUAM, after Ukraine had also entered the risk zone of separatism, will be regarded on a different way in these capitals.

It can be said in this regard that an eventual success of the GUUAM summit in Chisinau could have a decisive impact on further developments. This success particularly depends on how Ukraine will be able to justify its ambitions of regional leader. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko mentioned in his speech at the Warsaw University on April 12 that he intends to unveil a new concept on regional partnership and leadership at the Chisinau summit. It seems that this concept envisages his Transdnestria settlement initiative. It is known so far that this initiative is based on principles of “respect for Moldova’s territorial integrity and insurance of a sufficient autonomy to Transnistria, and this would stabilise the political situation in the entire region.” According to Yushchenko, settlement of conflicts near Ukraine’s borders is an emergency, since the Ukraine-Moldova frontier is a bridge for illegal migration and trafficking. The participation of the OSCE and USA in equipping the checkpoints in line with modern standards and norms, as well as joint efforts could ensure an efficient settlement. On the other hand, political leaders, experts from Moldova and other countries expressed concern over secret nature of the work on the “project”, which has the signs of some internal conflicts between groups of the Kiev administration with different interests in the Transdnestrian region. This may provoke the failure of the “Ukrainian project” in Transdnestria and ambitions of this country to become a regional leader, with negative consequences for GUUAM. The Moldovan authorities had promised to turn down any projects seeking an eventual settlement of the Transdnestrian conflict through federalisation of Moldova.

Interest of the U.S and E.U. for GUUAM

There is no doubt that the ability of GUUAM to survive and develop is directly proportionate to the interest of the USA and EU in this region. Therefore, the GUUAM members should back this interest. This interest was initially based on possibility to develop the so-called “Transportation Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Caspian Sea”, an eventual restoration of the “Silk Road”, which opened the access to regions rich of hydrocarbons in Central Asia. There are tries to get rid of the previous incapacity (till elections in Georgia and Ukraine) of the GUUAM-member states to reach the declared goals and maintain the interest of the USA and EU for this regional organisation by giving new valences to this stricture. Invitation of representatives of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Baltics, etc. at the GUUAM summit in Chisinau opens perspectives for cooperation within GUUAM by attracting interests for much wider geopolitical projects such as the Black Sea Basin and Baltic Sea — Black Sea cooperation, areas which represent connections between the West and Central Asia. The USA and EU could show an increased interest for these perspectives. Although the economic interests of the USA and EU in region are related to a farther perspective, the interest for political stability and security should be very shaped, since illegal trafficking and migration in region represent a common threat;

Perception and interest of Russia to oppose the development of GUUAM

The Russian authorities and experts had a negative attitude towards GUUAM from the very beginning, regarding this regional organisation as a threat for its political, economic and security interests in the post-Soviet area. That’s why Russia had undertaken different successful measures in order to demonstrate the economic weakness of GUUAM. The recent meddling in elections in Ukraine and Moldova demonstrated that Russia wanted a lot to maintain the political control in region through very typical methods. However, the eventual creation of a collective security system in the GUUAM area had raised the deepest concern. The fact that Ukraine and Moldova had never joined the CIS Collective Security Agreement, while Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan withdrew from this security structure fueled these suspicions. In particular, Russian experts are concerned over declared intentions of Ukraine and Georgia to become NATO members in perspective. Although nobody nourishes illusions regarding the preparation and eventual terms of entry of these countries in NATO, the possibility of an intermediary cooperation between an eventual collective security system GUUAM and Euro-Atlantic structures is not excluded. Russia dislikes very much this sort of eventual cooperation. As it was said, GUUAM is the only regional structure in the CIS to which Russia is not a member, while the announced intention of GUUAM to cooperate for insurance of stability in the Black Sea Basin and the Black Sea-Baltic Sea region, areas where NATO and EU have recently enlarged, only fuels Russia’s suspicions that the new NATO and EU members could become strong lawyers of interests of GUUAM states in relations with Washington and Brussels.

Russia had already reacted. It backed the intention of the “separatist international” made up by Transnistria, Abkhazya and South Ossetya to create a military alliance to combat the eventual integrating effects inside GUUAM. Also, Russia is indirectly introducing “economic sanctions” (the recent case of Moldova) by prohibiting the importation of agricultural or food products from veterinary or sanitary security reasons. However, the precedent experience had demonstrated that support for separatism and introduction of “economic sanctions” can have contradictory effects and harm Russia’s interests.

Presidential elections Upgrading of GUUAM. Tendencies and perspectives