Monday, February 25, 2008

Window on Eurasia: GUAM Crosses the Former Soviet Border

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 25 – GUAM, the organization that unites Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, is expanding its ties not with other post-Soviet states but rather with three countries – Poland, Japan and the United States – located beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union.
That shift, underscored by a meeting of GUAM coordinators in Warsaw last week and a visit by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Warsaw in the week ahead, represents a major departure from this grouping’s past activities, one that is simultaneously less threatening and more to Moscow’s role in the former Soviet space. When it was created – and especially when Uzbekistan was briefly a member -- GU(U)AM was viewed by Russian Federation officials and many others as a direct challenge to the continued existence of the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
If GU(U)AM had been able to attract two more members from among the post-Soviet states, many felt, this group would be in a position to challenge Moscow for primacy, a feeling that led Moscow to pressure Uzbekistan to drop out of this grouping and one that explains the Russian government’s efforts to get Moldova to do the same.
But now, by pursuing an entirely different strategy of reaching out beyond the former Soviet borders even as its leaders continue to take part in CIS meetings, GUAM is acquiring new importance not so much as an immediate threat to Moscow and its CIS but as a measure of the declining importance of the former Soviet space as a political reality.
And that in turn means that GUAM, often dismissed as an irrelevancy by Moscow analysts especially after Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov withdrew, may in fact be playing an ever more important role than in the past in defining the political geography of Eurasia (
In June 2007, GUAM signaled its hopes for progress in this new direction by attracting to its summit meeting in Baku the presidents of Poland, Romania, and Lithuania as well as senior officials from Japan, the United States and other countries beyond the borders of the former Soviet space.
GUAM had regularly tried to do this earlier with some success, but the Baku meeting was a breakthrough both in terms of the range and the rank of those from other countries choosing to attend and led to the formalization of three relationships: GUAM plus Poland, GUAM plus Japan and GUAM plus the United States.
Given Warsaw’s longstanding political interest in and efforts on behalf of the non-Russian portions of the former Soviet space, GUAM’s relationship with Poland is especially important and explains both the coordinators’ meeting there and why the Azerbaijani president will be visiting that country this week.
With Japan, GUAM has developed cooperation on investments, energy technology and tourism. And with the United States, it has helped launch a virtual center for the struggle against organized crime as well as support for the development of transportation infrastructure and trade.
This “growing interest in GUAM and the broadening of the geography of its external partnerships,” on Azerbaijani commentator suggested, “are the best confirmation of the correctness of the strategy its members have agreed upon for developing this organization, a group open for cooperation with any European or Asian countries.”

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