Ex-Soviet GUAM leaders to discuss Western course in Baku

Agence France Presse — English
June 17, 2007 Sunday 2:38 AM GMT

Ex-Soviet GUAM leaders to discuss Western course in Baku

by Michael Mainville

Backed by leaders of other former Soviet bloc countries, the
presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine gather here Monday for
a two-day summit aimed at reducing Moscow’s influence over energy
supplies and peacekeeping in the region.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Polish President Lech Kaczynski
and Romanian President Traian Basescu will join three leaders from
the GUAM group of ex-Soviet states, Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Azerbaijan’s
President Ilham Aliyev.

The three countries are part of the GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine,
Azerbaijan, Moldova) regional bloc seen as a counterweight to
Russia’s influence in the former Soviet Union.

The focus of the meeting will be efforts to ship oil from Azerbaijan
to Ukraine and the creation of a joint peacekeeping force, Yushchenko
told journalists earlier this month.

But Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin will not be attending as the
summit conflicts with long-planned talks with the European Union in
Luxembourg and Brussels, his press service told Moldovan news
agencies.

Analysts say Moldova’s commitment to the organisation is unclear,
especially since Moscow lifted a ban on imports of Moldovan wine and
meat late last year.

Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev will attend in Voronin’s place.

Georgia and Ukraine, both of which have long depended on Moscow for
energy, have been keen to promote GUAM as an alternative to the
Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a Kremlin-dominated
grouping of ex-Soviet countries.

Aliyev, whose country sits on major Caspian Sea energy reserves, has
been more cautious, emphasizing that GUAM is not an anti-Kremlin
alliance.

Yushchenko said that energy would be the main focus of the summit, in
particular a plan to ship oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia, across
the Black Sea to a Ukrainian pipeline that runs from Odessa to Brody,
near Ukraine’s border with Poland.

Yushchenko said he also expected progress in talks over the creation
of a joint GUAM peacekeeping force, which could work in conflict
regions under mandates from the UN Security Council and the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Analysts have said that GUAM peacekeepers could be used to replace
Russian forces currently deployed in two separatist regions of
Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Azerbaijan has said GUAM peacekeepers could also be deployed as part
of settlement over the disputed enclave of Nagorny Karabakh, seized
from Azerbaijan by Armenian forces in the early 1990s.

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