Representatives from the five member states of GUUAM wrap up their two-day summit in Yalta today. During its six years of existence, the group has pledged to become a vital part of East-West export routes, but to date has little to show for its efforts. Only two of the five leaders even attended this week's summit. But an observer at the conference, the United States, demonstrated a keen interest in GUUAM, an interest that may help the group evolve into the organization it has always hoped to become.
Prague, 4 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Agreements reached at this week's summit in the Black Sea resort of Yalta between the representatives of GUUAM's five member-states -- Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova -- hardly represent major breakthroughs.
So far, the biggest story to come from the summit has been the absence of three of the five presidents, leading today's Russian daily "Kommersant" to write: "It is impossible to call the event a GUUAM summit."
In the end, however, the summit may be remembered more for the role played by a nonmember state -- the United States.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said today that a declaration on cooperation has been signed between GUUAM and the U.S. The U.S. is one of 19 countries that sent delegations to observe the GUUAM summit. Ten international organizations also sent representatives.
Shevardnadze said the U.S. will provide financial support for GUUAM projects -- most importantly, for projects that concern the creation of the Europe-Caucasus-Asia transportation corridor.
The GUUAM representatives in Yalta also agreed to set up an antiterrorism center. The idea has the backing of the U.S.
Steven Pifer, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, who led the U.S. delegation to the summit, said on the "Podrobnosti" (Details) program on Inter television this week (2 July) that the U.S. would like the GUUAM summit to result in the signing of a trade and transport agreement and the creation of the so-called "virtual" law enforcement center, a shared database to fight terrorism and organized crime.
Pifer spoke about the U.S. commitment to GUUAM last night at a press conference.
"In terms of U.S. support towards GUUAM, we have now allocated $1 million to support the two projects that I've mentioned -- the trade and transportation facilitation project and the virtual law enforcement center."
Media coverage of the summit has largely focused on the absence of the Azerbaijani, Moldovan, and Uzbek presidents. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev is recovering from health problems, which necessitated his treatment at a hospital in Turkey in early May. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, according to Moldovan First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan, is also recuperating from an illness and did not make the trip.
Voronin has shown little interest in GUUAM since he became Moldova's president in 2001, though he did attend GUUAM summits in 2001 and 2002. Voronin said at last year's summit his country would only take part in future summits on the basis of Moldova's economic interests.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov's reasons for not coming remain unclear, although there is a regional summit in Kazakhstan that starts tomorrow. Karimov also is due to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 6 July in the Silk Route city of Samarkand. Former Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov, who is now special adviser to the president, led the Uzbek delegation to Yalta.
Karimov has never attended a GUUAM summit. Uzbekistan is the group's newest member, having joined in 1999, two years after the other four countries founded the group. And it nearly became the first country to leave GUUAM last year.
Under U.S. pressure Uzbekistan reconsidered its position, first saying it was "suspending" its membership, then simply renewing its activities in GUUAM.
Besides Georgia's Shevardnadze, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was the only other president in attendance. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko downplayed the presidents' absence at a press conference last night, concentrating instead on the issues that were discussed.
"First of all, an idea of strengthening economic cooperation was clearly expressed at our meeting. Secondly, we discussed the development of regional and interregional cooperation. And thirdly, finding ways of realizing different joint projects that would contribute to the European economic system and to the development of a transnational transport network. Besides, a proposal to strengthen the fight against new challenges to Europe was clearly elucidated, which includes the fight against terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and so on and so forth."
The announcement of today's U.S.-GUUAM agreements will likely fuel the belief that one of GUUAM's main tasks is "drawing closer to the U.S.," as the "Kommersant" paper said today.
"Kommersant" said the choice of the U.S. is logical, as "knowing all too well that Moscow would never change its attitude to GUUAM, and would in fact do everything possible to split it, GUUAM countries set out to find a counterweight to Russian influence. GUUAM founders Ukraine and Georgia chose the United States."