Accessibility links

Breaking News

East: Leaders Meet In Ukraine To Create New Regional Alliance

(RFE/RL) The leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Romania, the Baltic states, and other Eastern European nations are meeting in Kyiv to discuss ways to boost multilateral cooperation. The two-day forum is expected to mark the birth of a new regional grouping of nations called the Community of Democratic Choice. Some political experts see the upcoming alliance as a potential alternative to the Commonwealth of Independent States, which, 14 years ago, emerged from the rubble of the Soviet Union. But the viability of the new alliance has been questioned.

Prague, 1 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The two-day event is due to open after Ukraine and the European Union wrap up a bilateral summit in Kyiv.

If today will be mainly devoted to bilateral talks, tomorrow will mark the climax of the gathering, with the Community of Democratic Choice holding its constitutive assembly and adopting a joint declaration.

Guests tentatively include the presidents of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Macedonia, Romania, Moldova, and Slovenia as well as government delegations from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.

The main sponsors of the Kyiv forum are Viktor Yushchenko and Mikheil Saakashvili, the presidents of Ukraine and Georgia.

Both leaders laid down the foundations of the new grouping at a bilateral meeting in the Georgian resort town of Borjomi in August. As Saakashvili then told reporters, the basic principles of the Community of Democratic Choice are contained in a document known as the Borjomi Declaration.

"Today [President Yushchenko and myself] signed the Borjomi declaration. This declaration is about defending freedom and democracy in our region," Saakashvili said. "Today, we put forward a proposal to convene a conference, a summit, in Ukraine this autumn. All democratic countries in our region will attend this summit. Other countries such as Russia, EU nations, and the United States will also participate as observers."

Georgian media yesterday reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin has declined to attend the Kyiv forum for reasons that remain unclear. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky will represent the United States. The Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations, and the 11-member Black Sea Economic Cooperation Pact (BSEC) will send representatives.

Already at the Borjomi summit, Yushchenko outlined the basic principles of the Community of Democratic Choice.

"We [Saakashvili and myself] both understand that if we want to see our countries develop democratically, then the issue of democracy is, thankfully, not restricted to our sole national boundaries. We must know what values, what freedoms our neighbors advocate, how they implement them, and whether their values correspond to ours," Yushchenko said. "If they do not correspond, then perhaps the time has come for us to consider creating a coalition, a coalition of states for whom freedom and democracy are basic values which are essential to answer those questions that affect every person, be they of a humanitarian, economic, or social character."

Community of Democracies

The basic principles of the Community of Democratic Choice stem from that of the U.S.-backed Community of Democracies (CD), which held its first ministerial meeting in Warsaw five years ago.

The CD is a loose grouping of 106 governments committed to consolidating their democratic institutions and working with other countries to help them on their path toward democratization.

The Borjomi Declaration says the Community of Democratic Choice aims at becoming "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."

Georgian political expert Ramaz Sakvarelidze told the Novosti-Gruziya news agency on 29 November that he sees the new regional alliance as a possible "alternative" to the CIS, the Russian-led grouping of nations that succeeded the Soviet Union in 1991.

Other Georgian media on 30 November quoted Saakashvili's chief aide, presidential administration head Giorgi Arveladze, as saying the Community of Democratic Choice would effectively become "an axis of democratic countries that do not wish to remain in Russia's orbit."

Yet, in comments made to Tatarstan's Tatar-inform news agency shortly after the Borjomi summit (26 August), Yushchenko rejected claims that the upcoming alliance would be directed against Russia, or the CIS.

In Yushchenko's words, "the aim of our not to befriend anyone against someone else."

Teimur Iakobashvili is the vice-president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. He tells RFE/RL's Georgian Service that he sees the Community of Democratic Choice as something in between the EU and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which groups Russia, China, and four Central Asian nations.

"What we're witnessing, I would say, is a sort of radicalization of two ideas which are currently in a transitory stage. On the one hand there is the EU, which acts like a magnet on other countries, although it has lost some of its magnetism after its members failed to adopt a common constitution," Iakobashvili said. "On the other hand, there is another developing pole [of attraction] that is represented by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. I believe the idea of creating a Community of Democratic Choice may appeal to those countries that are caught between those two blocs, but lean toward democracy and the West."

Yet, whether the new alliance will prove viable remains under question.

Political expert Sakvarelidze says the Community of Democratic Choice may share a fate similar to that of GUAM, a regional economic alliance that comprises Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.

Sakvarelidze told Novosti-Gruziya that GUAM has become "insignificant" after the United States lost interest in the organization. He added that for the Community of Democratic Choice to be viable, either the United States or the EU should become its driving force.

But other political experts believe the main problem the new alliance will face is inherent with its initiators.

Shalva Pichkhadze, a former Georgian presidential adviser, believes that the region's lacking democracy could be the main problem facing the new grouping.

"For the Community of Democratic Choice to be viable, its members should be democratic themselves. If those countries are not democratic, they can create as many regional alliances they wish, that won't change anything. For the time being, I don't see [any real democracy] in Georgia," Pichkhadze said.

In a statement released this week, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said Romania would host the next meeting of the Community of Democratic Choice in March 2006. Subsequent gatherings are expected to take place later that year in Lithuania and Georgia.

(RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent Koba Liklikadze contributed to this report from Tbilisi.)