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Vol 3, No 23
25 June 2001
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cemap Quo vadis, GUUAM?
Iryna Solonenko

The summit of GUUAM (the acronym made up of the first letter of each member's name: Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) which took place between 6 and 7 June 2001 in Yalta, southern Ukraine, was more than just an ordinary meeting of the heads of state and members of a regional association of the former Soviet Republics. The summit was special in that it resulted in the signing of the Charter of GUUAM, which provided the legal basis for the organization. GUUAM has turned from being merely a loose regional association into a regional organization.

The summit can be considered a success in some respects. It took place despite the reserved attitude of some of GUUAM members—notably Moldova and Azerbaijan—who insisted that the summit, initially planned for early March, be delayed. The summit resulted in the institutionalization of the alliance despite the fact that Moldova was strongly opposed to the idea and warned against turning GUUAM into an alternative to the CIS. The future of GUUAM was put into question after the Communists came to power in Moldova and the Communist leader, Vladimir Voronin, became President.

Despite these challenges, the institutionalization of the organization was formalized when all members signed the charter. However, many uncertainties remain, leaving the question of GUUAM's future open.

Do the members of the group have sufficient resources and enough political will to promote further cooperation? Are they able to resist the pressure from Russia, which perceives GUUAM as a factor aimed at reducing Russia's domination in the post-Soviet space? Will GUUAM receive the necessary support from the United States and the European Union? After all, does an organization of these five post-Soviet states, whose process of transition has been extremely difficult and painful, and who are particularly vulnerable to external constraints, have a chance for survival, if not success?

From a consultative forum to an international organization

GUAM (it became GUUAM only in April 1999, when Uzbekistan joined the alignment) formally emerged in October 1997 during the Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg, when the Presidents of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova issued a joint communiqué. In this communiqué, the Presidents of the four countries highlighted the importance of cooperation to establish a "Eurasian Trans-Caucasian transport corridor," and declared their intention to deepen political and economic ties and cooperation.

In the communiqué, they also expressed their mutual interest in the enhancement of regional security and recognition that the "process of integration into transatlantic and European structures could substantially reduce threats and risks [to regional security]."

Until now, GUUAM has remained a loose consultative and coordinating group, despite some steps to regulate cooperation. These included holding presidential summits at least once a year, bi-annual meetings on ministerial levels and the appointment of a special coordinator for GUUAM activities in each country. The coordinators' first meeting took place in late July 1999 and since then, they meet every two or three months.

Other new issue areas for cooperation were raised, particularly for each of the countries' military as well as for economic cooperation. The countries discussed the possible creation of a GUUAM battalion and enhancing cooperation within NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program. During various meetings, the importance of a more intense cooperation in economics, financial stabilization strategy, energy and transport development was repeatedly underscored by participating states. Georgia even started advocating the development of a GUUAM free-trade agreement.

In practice, however, little was done, encouraging analysts to predict GUUAM's disintegration. Economic cooperation remained the least developed area of interaction between the GUUAM countries. The energy ambitions of the countries, to diversify their energy supplies and gain access to Caspian oil, were also largely undermined by a lack of interest on the part of Western governments and major oil companies, which preferred to support energy transportation routes outside Ukraine (through Turkey, for instance). Military cooperation was rather declarative and limited by participation in PfP training, as well as by Ukraine's involvement in some peacekeeping operations.

The adoption of the charter was an important step for even closer cooperation, laying down the basis for the creation of common institutions and an effective decision-making process. According to the charter, GUUAM's supreme body is the Summit of the Heads of State, while GUUAM's foreign ministers—who are to gather for sessions twice a year—are empowered to perform executive functions. The charter also stipulates the creation of GUUAM's working body, the Committee of National Coordinators, to which each member state is to elect one representative. It was also decided to ask the United Nations to recognize GUUAM as an international organization, with emphasis on the fact that Bulgaria, Romania and even Brazil want to become members.

Common interests are not enough

The emergence of GUUAM was a unique phenomenon in that it was establishing new forms of cooperation in a region traditionally dominated by Russia. It marked the development of new structures of economic and political interests in post-Soviet countries. It is different, for instance, from the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) that unites countries with different levels of socio-economic development, and from the CIS as a residual post-Soviet formation with obvious domination by the Russian Federation. GUUAM is also different from any other subregional initiative based on geographic proximity in that it transcends natural geographic lines: Caucasusian and European countries brought together.

GUUAM emerged primarily as an international initiative, with political and security issues at the top of its agenda. The Newly Independent States (NIS), which emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union, faced similar problems and found their positions in key foreign political issues to coincide, or at least not to contradict one another. The rapprochement among the countries began during summits of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Council of Europe, where the similarities were revealed and the countries began to consult and coordinate their positions.

Beyond these common attitudes, the countries soon came to realize that they have important common goals. All these states are striving to establish closer ties with the West and western political and economical institutions. They are equally dissatisfied with Russia's imperial ambitions and its attempts to play the dominating role within the CIS.

These countries have also experienced Russian military presence on their territories, which they perceive as threat to their sovereignty and security. Another important aim is the possibility of creating and servicing an energy transport corridor, which would diversify the energy sources of the countries and yield profits to them. This is especially important for Ukraine and Moldova, which rely on oil supplies from Russia to provide up to 90 percent of their energy consumption. The GUUAM countries are also similarly interested in establishing close economic and trade ties as their economies and production already largely complement each other.

Still, the latest development in the post-Soviet space has raised serious doubts about the successful achievement of those goals.

During the Yalta summit, some could be heard to argue that the GUUAM countries have become increasingly economically (and as the result politically) dependent on Russia, suggesting that GUUAM is not an alternative to the CIS. Such dependency has been considered evidence of GUUAM's unwillingness to irritate Russia. This is a paradox, since the very nature of GUUAM implies opposition to Russia's domination, although the countries have never made it explicit.

None of the countries have really been supportive of the idea of a Russian-dominated CIS. Also, all GUUAM countries at some point have refused to participate in the CIS Collective Security Treaty of 1992 (the Tashkent Treaty). However, during the Yalta Summit, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, alongside his GUUAM counterparts, claimed that GUUAM members do not intend to turn the organization into a military-political structure. Kuchma said the organization by no means aimed at being a leverage against Russian or anyone else's interests: "Neither today nor in the future are we going to work against the interest of Russia, among others." Many experts claim that the very summit took place after silent agreement on Russia's part.

The prospects of energy transportation's bypassing Russia have also proved to be vague. This is largely because West European countries and the US, the final recipients of the energy, have prioritized other energy routes, in particular those from Middle Asia through Turkey. In September 1999, it was decided to build an alternative pipeline through Turkey under the auspices of the US, which significantly endangered the prospects of a pipeline from Middle Asia through Caucasus. Another project, which significantly contradicts Ukrainian interests, is that of building a pipeline through Russia, Belarus and Poland, supported by West European countries (Germany and France). After internal debates within Poland—a traditional supporter of Ukraine—on whether to accept the proposal, the contract was finally signed.

Overall, despite their efforts, the GUUAM countries are too weak, from a geopolitical perspective, to play a determinant role in the region. The policies of the countries are relatively reactive in that they are shaped by external circumstances and are very much dependent on the interests of traditional superpowers—Russia and the US, and also Western Europe and Turkey. Indeed, the very emergence of GUUAM was a reaction against Russia's dominant position in the post-Soviet space.

The geopolitical weakness of GUUAM stems from its member-countries' own poor economic development and their unstable political situation. On this, many experts agree. According to a poll conducted by the Oleksandr Razumkov Center of Economic and Political Studies, involving the work of 100 experts from Kyiv in May, and published on the eve of the summit, the most important factors which impede integration within GUUAM are domestic political instability (59 percent) and the low socioeconomic development (54 percent) of the alliance's members.

The near future promises no improvement in the realm of economic cooperation. In fact, trade between GUUAM countries has been declining substantially since 1998, with the main economic and trading interests of GUUAM participants lying with neighbor states outside the grouping.

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Although prospects for economic cooperation were discussed intensively both at the summit and in bilateral meetings, the GUUAM leaders stopped short of signing an agreement on a free-trade zone within their alliance. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said some minor issues needed to be discussed first, while Uzbek President Islam Karimov commented that the delay in signing the agreement was due to "formalities." Karimov noted that Moldova and Georgia, which are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), had no right to sign such an accord without approval from the WTO.

This explanation is hardly a persuasive one, taking into consideration that all member states already have bilateral agreements on free trade.

Additional evidence of the weakness of GUUAM is popular attitudes towards it. The above-mentioned poll, also conducted among 2000 respondents throughout Ukraine, revealed interesting tendencies. According to the results of the poll, 62.6 percent of Ukrainians have not heard of GUUAM, 33.8 percent have heard about it but are not familiar with the alliance's plans and goals, while only 3.6 respondents were informed about the activities of the group. The situation revealed in the public opinion poll for Ukraine is likely to be similar in the other GUUAM countries.

Thus, GUUAM, although launched on the basis of common interests and by countries pursuing similar goals, has so far remained a loose alliance of five post-Soviet states which are attempting to free themselves from post-Soviet patterns of cooperation (that is, from Russia's domination). Formalization of the alliance might be seen as an important step towards strengthening the organization. It has shown that the GUUAM countries are willing to strengthen ties. However, both the political and economic weaknesses of the participating countries make the organization too vulnerable and dependent on external factors, which are hostile and unpromising opportunities.

Iryna Solonenko, 25 June 2001

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