GUAM back?

The first since 2008, Congress GUAM in Kiev, obviously, was an attempt of the member countries — Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova — to restore the work of this organization. But it is unclear how close are the targets of these States: some geopolitical events unite them, while others divide.


27 March in the Ukrainian capital arrived the Prime Minister-Ministers of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, as well as Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan. It was the first such Congress in GUAM for nearly a decade. This time the representatives of member countries GUAM, apparently, tried to move away from the previously occupied by the organization of anti-Russian positions and to focus on economic issues. Took part in the event, officials agreed to implement a regional free trade agreement and the construction of the corridor.

“What we are today for the first time during the existence of the format are holding a summit of heads of government a very clear signal that we pay our due attention to cooperation”, — said Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groisman.

“The forum participants unanimously acknowledged that the organization need new impetus and more active approaches from various parties”, — said the Prime Minister of Georgia Giorgi Kvirikashvili.

The organization was founded in 1997 as a regional block for joint opposition to Russia’s intervention in the Affairs of member countries. At that time the US and the EU supported the initiative.

“GUAM was a club of “good guys”, the new axis of the new countries that tried to resist Russia in the familiar, post-Soviet conditions, and which could count on the support of the “international community”, if you will find spit on a rock,” said the Caucasian analyst with great experience, Thomas Goltz.

But then the unity of the organization has weakened, because some members have sought to take a less confrontational stance against Russia. The President of Moldova Vladimir Voronin missed the last summit of GUAM in Batumi in 2008, and although he claimed that he was forced to do it for health reasons, in a us diplomatic cable later published by WikiLeaks, noted that “Moldova is trying to downplay the participation of the GUAM in the hope of gaining support from Russia for solution to the Transnistrian problem”.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power on a wave of anti-Russian Orange revolution, is also gradually softened towards Moscow. Its Kremlin-friendly successor, Viktor Yanukovych, and is subjected to GUAM criticism, saying that it is “not pragmatic, and the romantic politics.”

After euromedinukas revolution, Ukraine’s foreign policy again became anti-Russian, but relations with Georgia continued to be tense because of the decision of the new Ukrainian government to involve the former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili and a number of his companions. The current Georgian authorities do not like Saakashvili.

But now has created quite favorable conditions for the restoration of cooperation. First, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, all four GUAM States are United by one problem: in one way or another Russia-backed separatists controlled part of the territory of these countries. “The unresolved conflicts in the GUAM area will once again challenge our political, economic and social development, — said Kvirikashvili at a meeting in Kiev. In this regard, the voice of GUAM should sound as loud as possible. It is important for us to more actively use the potential of GUAM with the aim of achieving broad international support and an adequate response in connection with the facts of encroachment on the territorial integrity of the States members of GUAM”.

The rapprochement of Tbilisi and Kiev also contributed to the departure of Saakashvili from the post of Governor of the Odessa region. “Until recently, relations between Ukraine and Georgia was not very warm, but now the situation is changing, and there is hope for the revival of GUAM,” said Marina Vorotnyuk, specialist on the region at the analytical center “Ukrainian prism”.

The Minister of foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin, who in 2014 nominated later rejected a proposal to change the working language of GUAM from Russian to English, 20-21 April visited Tbilisi and urged to join efforts towards European integration.

Azerbaijan, for its part, is interested in the revival of GUAM as the organization for economic cooperation and political platform, dealing with unresolved conflicts. “First of all it is necessary to unite efforts to resolve existing conflicts in the GUAM region”, — said in December the Secretary General of GUAM, the Azerbaijani diplomat Altay Efendiyev.

“GUAM as a regional organization has the political platform and in the framework of the organization, member countries should speak with one voice on many issues, in particular, to resist aggression, occupation of territories of member countries by other countries,” he added.

But Efendiyev also called the GUAM countries to pay more attention to trade and transport.

Although Azerbaijani officials presented the implementation of regional transportation projects as an example of the effectiveness of GUAM, some treat such statements with skepticism.

“Work on transport corridor, energy cooperation has accelerated in the bilateral format (for example, between Georgia and Azerbaijan) and multilateral (including Ukraine), but all this has not happened under the auspices of GUAM,” said one Azerbaijani analyst on condition of anonymity.

The declining interest of Azerbaijan in European integration may also call into question the usefulness of the GUAM Baku. In its original form this organization was seen as a tool that would allow the use of mutual cooperation for the rapprochement with the EU and NATO. But in recent years, Azerbaijan has largely abandoned these goals, Georgia remains firmly committed to them, Ukraine and Moldova are somewhere in the middle.

The importance of GUAM to Georgia dropped due to the inactivity of the organization in recent years and the lack of a clear vision of the future, and the positive statements of the Prime Minister Kvirikashvili in Kiev should be viewed simply as an attempt to improve relations with Ukraine, said Kakachia Cornelius, Director of the Georgian Institute of politics and Professor of political science at Tbilisi state University.

The efforts of GUAM to restore its significance is hampered by the loss of a strong support from USA and EU as well as diverging approaches of member countries to cooperate with Europe, added Kakachia. “Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova should seek a new group under the patronage of the EU, but it is unclear what to do with Azerbaijan, which, it seems, does not feel enthusiastic about integration with the EU,” he said.