Uzbekistan's decision to suspend membership in the GUAM group could augur the end of the organization. But at least one member state remains committed to GUAM and voice optimism about the group's prospects.
Officials from Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova will convene in the Black Sea resort town of Yalta on July 19-20 to perhaps make one final attempt at forging a viable free-trade zone. Additional topics expected to be addressed at the Yalta gathering include the establishment of a GUAM-European Union business forum, combating organized crime, anti-terrorism measures and "aggressive separatism."
Among the participating states, Azerbaijan seems most interested in GUAM future. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev suggested that the Yalta summit would "expand economic ties among the countries" in comments printed in the Ekho newspaper in Baku on July 16. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoli Zlenko expressed hope that Uzbekistan could be coaxed back into GUAM. "The organization is being seriously reshaped now," Zlenko told Ukrainian television on July 16.
One reason for optimism, an Azerbaijani political expert claims, is that GUAM retains the support of the United States. The United States is "ready to render very serious assistance to GUAM. At the same time, it expects GUAM leaders to cooperate more actively and effectively," political scientist Eldar Namazov told Ekho. An indicator of ongoing US interest in GUAM is the fact that a US diplomatic delegation -- led by Ambassador William Taylor, who coordinates American aid to European and Eurasian states will attend the Yalta summit
GUAM came into being in 1997, driven largely by Ukraine, which sought to counterbalance Russian influence within the CIS. Uzbekistan withdrew from the CIS Collective Security Treaty (CIS CST) in early 1999 and then joined GUUAM at NATO's fiftieth anniversary celebrations in Washington in April 1999.
On paper, member states had common interests in the creation of a Europe-Caucasus-Asia energy transportation corridor, along with support for territorial integrity and the resolution of separatist conflicts in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova. GUUAM also contained a security component that emphasized a commonly held desire of member states to integrate into NATO and the EU. In reality, many initiatives discussed by members were never implemented, and the organization never established a functioning mechanism to manage day-to-day operations.
The September 11 terrorist attacks served as the main catalyst for Uzbekistan's decision to suspend its GUAM membership. In particular, Tashkent's interest in the security aspect of GUUAM declined after September 11, when the Uzbek government forged a bilateral security relationship with Washington. The relationship already has brought an estimated $8 billion in US assistance to Uzbekistan. The US-Uzbek alliance has helped Uzbekistan establish itself as Central Asia's major power. Last December, Uzbekistan hosted the summit of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization. The group is the second CIS organization after GUAM in which Russia plays no role.
In explaining Uzbekistan's decision concerning GUAM membership, Uzbek diplomats cited the group's poor organization. "GUUAM has not become a proper mechanism for relations between the five member countries
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.