Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Is Moldova About to Leave GUAM?

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 28 – Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said yesterday that GUAM, the organization linking Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and his own country, is a grouping which has proved to be ineffectual and that he was “tired” of it, a possible indication that Moldova may withdraw from this Western-backed alternative to the CIS.
“Over the course of eight years of dealing with many presidents,” he said on a Chisinau-Moscow tele-bridge, “I note that some of them very much want to lead some kind of regional organization or another. And to that end, they think up these organizations and drag in other countries ( and
Voronin added that he was “tired” of being involved in a group where none of its participants appear to have a clear understanding of its purpose. And now, he continued, “one must carefully consider what this GUAM gives and who needs it.” Moldova’s “participation is extremely limited” already, he said, “because there have not been any results from its activities.”
And the Moldovan president concluded his remarks on this point by saying somewhat mysteriously that “there are other problems connected with this GUAM about which I do not want and will not speak. But it is clear that this GUAM neither yesterday nor today” has been or is capable of doing anything significant.
GUAM which was created with the encouragement of the United States and other Western governments not only as an alternative to the Commonwealth of Independent States but also as a grouping through the territory of which oil and gas from the Caspian Basin could reach Europe without passing through the Russian Federation.
The group, launched with much fanfare, gained a fifth member – Uzbekistan – but that country’s president Islam Karimov ultimately decided to leave. And since that time, Moldova has been the weak link in GUAM, with Voronin among others suggesting that Chisinau might leave, only to reverse himself shortly thereafter.
But there are three reasons to think that his comments now are more serious, as Evrazia expert Dmitry Popov has pointed out. First, relations between Chisinau and Kyiv have sharply deteriorated as a result of the gas war between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, a conflict that has had a negative impact on Moldova even though it was not a direct participant.
Second, Moldova’s relations with Baku and Tbilisi have also become more distant not only because many in Chisinau do not believe that these two governments are taking Moldova’s interests into sufficient account or that GUAM will, as some in these capitals earlier insisted, open the way for its members to Europe.
And third, Voronin has always been more sensitive to Russian opposition to GUAM than the other leaders, and that opposition is growing given what many in Moscow see as the anti-Russian policies being pursued by Georgia and a lesser extent by Azerbaijan. Consequently, the Moldovan leader appears to want to distance himself and his country from them.
Whether Chisinau will actually decide to leave GUAM or whether Voronin’s remarks now reflect his frustration at being ignored or treated as the odd man out within the grouping remains an open question. But the answer is critical. If Moldova goes, GUAM could disappear from the scene, but if it remains, Voronin’s standing at home and in many places abroad will fall.
That is something Moscow understands, and it is likely that after Voronin’s comments, the Russian government will take steps to help him decide, a strategy that could very well work, especially if neither the other members of GUAM nor its backers do something soon to try to counter that possibility.

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