EDM: Guam’s Batumi Summit Builds Partnerships Amid Challenges

July 9, 2008 — Volume 5, Issue 130

GUAM’S BATUMI SUMMIT BUILDS PARTNERSHIPS AMID CHALLENGES

by Vladimir Socor

GUAM consultations with the Partner Countries take place in the
specially designed GUAM Plus framework. This operates, as it did in Batumi,
through individual formats involving Poland, Lithuania, the United States,
and now additionally the Czech Republic and Japan. Presidents Lech Kaczynski
of Poland and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania, Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs
Karel Schwarzenberg, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Merkel,
and a Japanese envoy took part in these consultations on energy transit and
regional security issues (Civil Georgia, The Messenger, July 2).

Romania is also a GUAM Partner country. President Traian Basescu,
however, stayed away from the GUAM summit in Batumi. He had also failed to
attend the Caspian-Black Sea-Baltic energy summit in Kyiv in May. The
Romanian government only sent a deputy minister to each of these
presidential summits. This dismissive attitude comes as a surprise,
considering the active interest that Basescu had displayed until recently in
Black Sea issues and energy transit projects.

Bucharest has not explained the reasons behind its sudden loss of
interest in these regional summits. Unnecessary bickering with Ukraine could
be a factor. At present, Bucharest is trying hard to pave the way for a
presidential visit to Russia. It may seem that this effort takes precedence
over participation in regional events that Moscow deems irritating.

The Japanese government had initiated direct contacts with GUAM in
2007 at the Baku summit. The current government in Tokyo continues that
policy. Minister of Foreign Affairs Masahiko Komura received GUAM
Secretary-General Valeri Chechelashvili and the GUAM National Coordinators
in Tokyo in December 2007 and appointed a special envoy of Japan for GUAM
affairs (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, `Report on GUAM during
the Azerbaijani Chairmanship,’ July 2008). This initiative emerged as an
element in a far-reaching Japanese concept of a Eurasian `Arc of
Prosperity,’ presumably designed to leapfrog China and Russia along their
southern and south-western perimeters.

Within the European Union, an informal Group of GUAM’s Friends has
quietly taken shape in recent months. The EU itself, however, keeps a
careful distance. It avoids sending any officials from Brussels to GUAM
summits and other GUAM events, without clarifying the reasons behind this
policy. The cold-shoulder adds to the disappointments over the EU’s
unfulfilled Silk Road projects, the inadequacies of its Neighborhood Policy,
its confused stance on the protracted conflicts, and the lack of a European
energy policy in the GUAM region.

The Batumi declaration alludes to the NATO membership aspirations of
Georgia and Ukraine. The document stipulates that GUAM `respects and
supports GUAM member states’ freedom of choice of such a system of ensuring
their national security that would fully correspond to their national
interest’ (Summit communiqué, July 1). Some of the earlier GUAM documents
used to refer to NATO partnerships directly, not cryptically as is now the
case. GUAM was not shy about meeting on the sidelines of a NATO summit,
Azerbaijan used to be a declared NATO aspirant (along with Ukraine and
Georgia), and Moldova could be flexible about its official neutrality. NATO,
however, did not rush through the window of opportunity while this was wide
open.

As a group, GUAM intends in the months ahead to mobilize international
political and diplomatic support for dealing with the secessionist
conflicts. This was GUAM’s original raison d’etre, supplemented in due
course by the energy transit agenda, which, however, languishes in the EU.
At the Batumi summit, Azerbaijan handed over the GUAM chairmanship to
Georgia with a recommendation to adopt a program of joint action in
international organizations toward resolution of the conflicts. Azerbaijan
describes such initiatives as GUAM’s `defining factor’ in its concluding
report (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, `Report on GUAM during
the Azerbaijani Chairmanship,’ July 2008).

In March and May 2008, the GUAM countries succeeded for the first time
as a group in pushing favorable resolutions on the conflicts through the UN
General Assembly. Although adopted by narrow margins, the resolutions
condemned the secessions and ethnic cleansing perpetrated on the territories
of Azerbaijan and Georgia (see EDM, March 18, May 16). A wide-ranging,
jointly drafted GUAM resolution is now pending.

GUAM countries are being held together by the need to deal with
externally supported secessionist conflicts — or, in Ukraine’s case, to
defuse this potential — and remove foreign forces from their territories.
This remains the four countries’ overarching interest, beyond discrepancies
in their attitudes toward Russia, NATO, the pace of internal reforms, or
their positions in the energy supply chain.

–Vladimir Socor

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