Prague, 2 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Participants in the forum included the presidents of Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Moldova, Slovenia, and Macedonia.
Government delegations from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland also attended the gathering, along with observers from the United States, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Addressing the forum today ,
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told the 120 participants that the Community of Democratic Choice would focus on three main objectives -- the promotion of democratic values, regional stability, and economic prosperity.
"I'm convinced that the discussion at our forum today is about something more than democracy," said Yushchenko. "In fact, real rapprochement is taking place between our nations in their common desire to strengthen democracy, stability, and economic development.
He continued: "I'm convinced that it is these basic values that are to become a foundation for our partnership, both between states and between peoples, in the 21st century." An Eye On Resolving Regional Conflicts
Yushchenko paid tribute to his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, for “inspiring” the two-day forum.
The basic principles of the Community of Democratic Choice are contained in a joint statement signed by Saakashvili and Yushchenko last August in the Georgian resort town of Borjomi.
The Borjomi Declaration, as the joint statement is known, envisions the Community of Democratic Choice as a "powerful instrument for removing the remaining divisions in the [Baltic-Black Sea] region, human rights violations, and any type of confrontation, or frozen conflict.”
Two members of the Community of Democratic Choice -- Georgia and Moldova -- are grappling with unresolved separatist conflicts.
Participants in the Kyiv forum today adopted a final declaration in which they vowed to work closely together “with a view to strengthening peace, democracy, and prosperity on the European continent.”
Of the nine founding members of the Community of Democratic Choice, two -- Georgia and Moldova -- are confronted with unresolved separatist conflicts, which started during the period of turmoil that preceded the Soviet collapse.
Both Moldova and Georgia accuse Russia of secretly supporting their breakaway regions of Transdniester, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia.
Yushchenko today hinted Ukraine and Georgia might use the new grouping to attempt to internationalize their respective sovereignty disputes. He said the Community of Democratic Choice would put a particular emphasis on conflict resolution.
“The achievement of stability -- in particular through the regulation of existing conflicts -- will create prerequisites for opening up the significant economic potential of our region," said Yushchenko. "In this way, we will foster political, security, and economic rapprochement between the Western and Eastern part of the European continent, and the development of each nation."
Russia -- Odd Man Out?
Some political commentators -- especially in Russia -- believe the Community of Democratic Choice aims primarily at weakening Moscow’s influence in the Black Sea region.
Others, like former Kremlin advisor Gleb Pavlovskii, see the new grouping as overtly pro-American.
In comments made to Russia’s "strana.ru" information website on 1 December, Pavlovskii said he believed the Community of Democratic Choice would “serve as an antechamber for Ukraine to join NATO.”
One Russian commentator wrote that members of Community for Democratic Choice would use the forum to 'voice their grievances toward Moscow.'
Yushchenko said today the new grouping should not be seen as directed against either Moscow or the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States, or CIS.
"Our initiative is not directed against any third countries or institutions," he said. "On the contrary, I see the Community of Democratic Choice as open dialogue between friends, adherents of ideas for promoting democracy and the supremacy of law."
In spite of Yushchenko’s remarks, the Kyiv gathering has not been warmly welcomed by Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly declined an invitation to attend the forum, sending an embassy official in his place.
A headline on Russia's "gazeta.ru" information website today referred to the new grouping as "The Unfriendly Community."
"Gazeta.ru" commentator Ilya Zhegulyev wrote: “Hiding behind democratic slogans," all of the members of the Community of Democratic Choice will use the forum to "voice their grievances toward Moscow.” A New CIS?
Some Ukrainian commentators also believe the new forum challenges Russia’s leadership in the region.
“Yushchenko and his friends have set up a new CIS,” wrote the "Ukrayinska Pravda" electronic newspaper after the forum ended.
Talking to reporters in Kyiv on 1 December, Georgia’s State Minister Giorgi Baramidze -- who is in charge of his country’s European integration -- readily admitted the new alliance was being formed, if not to confront Russia, then at least to counterbalance its influence.
Slovenian leader Janez Drnovsek said Europe 'cannot afford' to remain divided between prosperous countries and poor ones.
“We’re talking here of political interests and ties that are still in the making," said Baramidze. "It is extremely important that we should know who’s going where, because, democracy-wise, Russia is in a very difficult situation today -- to put it mildly. In nearly all domains, we can often see alarming signs of authoritarianism [there].”
Eastern European participants to the Kyiv gathering vowed to help Georgia and Ukraine continue their rapprochement with the West.
Addressing the forum, Slovenian President Janez Drnovsek said that Europe “cannot afford” to remain divided between prosperous and safe countries on the one hand, and nations “with low quality of life and no security” on the other. 'Developing With Dignity'
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin in turn called for the Community of Democratic Choice to develop its own institutions.
“I believe that our community, representing as it does a possibility for integrating those countries that have chosen a European orientation, should [consider] creating its own parliamentary assembly and synchronizing its markets and human resources," said Voronin.
"That would help our countries to adapt in the event they later join the European Union. If [EU membership] does not happen [quickly], that would still give those countries whose entry remains a longer-term objective the possibility to develop with dignity."
In their final declaration, the Democratic Choice Community country members said they would meet again in Bucharest in March 2006. Vilnius and Tbilisi will host two other regional forums later that year.
(RFE/RL correspondent Viktor Minyaylo contributed to this report from Kyiv.)