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East: GUUAM Summit Aims To Revitalize Regional Body

GUUAM -- the group comprising Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova -- was formed eight years ago with the aim of fostering regional cooperation outside the boundaries of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). But GUUAM's accomplishments were largely reduced to a series of signed agreements that never came to fruition. But now efforts are under way to revitalize the group. Leaders from four of the five member-states are gathering tomorrow in the Moldovan capital Chisinau in an attempt to breathe new life into a group that is increasingly turning away from Moscow and looking toward the West.

Prague, 21 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova share a common goal: European integration.

And they're hoping GUUAM will help them achieve it.

Oleksandr Sushko, director of the Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy of Ukraine, a Kyiv-based nongovernmental think tank, said the three countries have pledged to coordinate their efforts in integrating with NATO and the European Union.

"We expect some sort of revitalization of GUUAM on the basis of the new priorities which were declared by the leaders of Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, primarily," Sushko said. "They share some common views on European integration, which is the key priority of these countries."

To this end, the countries are expected to propose ways to revitalize the organization at tomorrow's summit.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko met last month with his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili. Afterward, he announced the two would present new projects aimed at raising GUUAM's profile.

"Both sides should pay more attention to the work of GUUAM," Yushchenko said. "And the two sides agreed on the idea of presenting on 22 April new projects for the organization's activities."

Yushchenko has also pledged that Kyiv and Tbilisi will use the summit to present a joint proposal for settling the Transdniester separatist crisis in eastern Moldova.

That issue has long been the focus of five-party talks between Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Transdniester, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But negotiations have stalled.

Romania, with its historic ties to Moldova, has been watching the Transdniester developments with concern, and Romanian President Traian Basescu, is set to attend the summit.

Andrei Plesu, Basescu's adviser on foreign affairs, said Bucharest is eager to hear any proposals regarding Transdniester.

"I am sure the Transdniester crisis will be one of the central topics of the GUUAM summit in Chisinau," Plesu said. "I am sure that President Yushchenko will not be the only one to present a peace plan. Probably the other participant countries will also present their point of view. We [Romanians] have our own point of view. We believe this is a crisis that can be solved only through comprehensive debate and dialogue."

GUUAM members will also be looking for other ways to improve cooperation.

A Georgian national security official, Givi Targamadze, head of the parliamentary defense and national security committee, said last week that GUUAM troops might soon become an alternative to Russian peacekeepers currently based in the region's conflict areas.
A Georgian national security official said last week that GUUAM troops might soon become an alternative to Russian peacekeepers currently based in the region's conflict areas.

So is GUUAM set to become a regional rival to the CIS? Oleksandr Sushko says it is still too early to predict whether the group can become an effective regional body.

"Maybe [GUUAM] will not be an integration structure at all," Sushko said. "Maybe it will be a dialogue structure, which coordinates policies, to provide some joint efforts to solve frozen conflicts, primarily in Transdniester. However, I'm quite skeptical about some supra-national structures in GUUAM. I prefer to speak about coordination to elaborate common policies on the international stage."

Uzbek President Islam Karimov is the only GUUAM leader who will not be attending the summit. Tashkent remains far removed from the more liberal inclinations of Kyiv, Chisinau, and Tbilisi.

Uzbekistan suspended its participation in GUUAM almost three years ago, and Karimov has suggested he may pull out of the group altogether.

Ilham Aliev, president of oil-rich Azerbaijan, is also more conservative than most of his GUUAM colleagues. But he will be attending the summit, which is due to also discuss the energy sector and the potential "diversification" of pipeline routes to avoid passing through Russia.

Baku, however, has been careful not to comment on the summit, to avoid damaging Azerbaijan's ties with Russia.

The presidents of nonmember states Lithuania and Bulgaria are also set to attend the summit. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who was also due to attend, has reportedly pulled out.

(RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service and Ukraine Service contributed to this report.)

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