Ukraine, Georgia discuss alliance

New efforts by Georgia and Ukraine to resuscitate an anti-Russian axis may prove to be of little benefit considering the alliance's last experience.

    Yushchenko (L) wants to counter Putin's regional dominance

    With President Mikhail Saakashvili visiting Ukraine, Georgia has been spearheading efforts to revive GUUAM, the acronym for members Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova.

    Along with Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko, their joint interest has been to use it as an economic and political mechanism, tying the members closer to Europe and the West while reducing Russia's traditional dominance.

    More economic than political

    Valeri Chalyi, director of international programmes at the Ukrainian Political and Economic Studies Centre, told Aljazeera.net that the drive to revive the association was more economic than political, for now. 


    "Orientation towards the European values is among the priorities of the GUUAM members"

    Valeri Chalyi,
    Ukrainian Political and Economic Studies Centre

    "The attempt at resuscitating GUUAM has been connected to what is being seen as the new opportunities for economic and security interaction in the Black Sea-Caspian region. They have been frozen in recent times," he said.

    Chalyi said the political priority of GUUAM's revival was the transportation of energy, attraction of new investments and the political consolidation of GUUAM members.

    The expansion of GUUAM was a key plank in talks between Yushchenko and Saakashvili on Thursday.

    Relations with EU

    Chalyi thinks Saakashvili and Yushchenko's interest in GUUAM is linked to relations with the European Union.

    "Orientation towards the European values is among the priorities of the GUUAM members," he said.

    "By virtue of its geopolitical situation, economic potential and clear orientation to the European model of development, Ukraine has interest in being a leadership force for the organisation."

    However, Jonathan Cohen, programme manager for the Caucasus region for Conciliation Resources, a London-based organisation specialising in conflict resolution, says that the GUUAM originally failed when it was set up in 1997 "because its framework made it impossible to resolve problems of interstate cooperation, namely, its relations with the CIS".

    The Commonwealth of Independent States emerged after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    GUUAM's failure

    Cohen said GUUAM withered after members failed in the late 1990s to create a regional free-trade zone, increase mutual trade turnover and realise ambitious energy projects.

    Russia maintains military bases
    in all the GUUAM countries

    "Now, Ukraine and other members of the GUUAM stand a chance for revitalising its authority, although the position of both Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan is still uncertain.

    "The project could be revived in the context of attracting under its aegis other countries outside the post-Soviet space," he told Aljazeera.net.

    The EU and Washington's attitude to the organisation in the late 1990s was that it had nothing to offer and the US administration had taken a strong tilt towards Russia at the time.

    Political winds

    After governments were toppled in Georgia and Ukraine, GUUAM's ability to muster political credibility has not been forthcoming; former alliance members still seem to be uncertain of where they stand with its revival today.

    Neither Yushchenko nor Saakashvili has managed to persuade Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan to rejoin the union, potential new member Armenia was ruled out, and Moldova has stated no interest in a reunion.

    Russia has military bases in all GUUAM countries and retains political influence with the countries Russian minorities (including in Trans-Dniester, a tiny self-declared Russian-led republic in Moldova)

    Russia's overreaction

    "Russia tends to overreact to developments in those republics"

    Jonathan Cohen,  Conciliation Resources

    "The former Soviet republics pose little threat to Russia and its interests itself," says Cohen, of Conciliation Resources.

    "Russia tends to overreact to developments in those republics. Since the elections in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, Moscow has tended to imagine threats emanating from virtually everywhere."

    He added: "Shadowboxing may cost Russia and its positions in the CIS dearly. It should probably pay no attention to GUUAM, and its political deadlock will once again constrain any alliance's ability to act."

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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