The foundation for the formation of the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (ODER-GUAM) was laid more than two decades ago. At the time, it was nothing more than a platform for friendly cooperation between several post-Soviet countries against the background of common political and economic interests, as well as the challenges facing them.
In 2006, the group of states was transformed into a full-fledged international organization that united Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. It is unjustified that it has never been able to become a powerful platform for political coordination and multi-vector cooperation between Member States. Indeed, despite the many points of contact uniting the four republics around the organization, there are a number of factors holding back the deepening of integration between them. At the same time, recent economic and trade projects in the area of trade and transport with the participation of four countries give hope for GUAM's return to the "big game". What are the current trends and prospects for the further development of the organization and what to expect from the Azerbaijani Presidency in 2020?
Returning to the origins
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a sufficiently fragmented geopolitical space has emerged in the region. The Central Asian republics for objective reasons did not show any intention to move away from the usual "center of power", the Baltic countries hastened to restore the former connection with the West, Armenia, which was in military-political and economic dependence on Russia due to hostilities against Azerbaijan, not even was facing any choice while Belarus was still living in the Soviet "euphoria."
Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, in their turn, sought an alternative to their Soviet past amid similar foreign policy priorities, national interests, and the difficulties of the transition phase of developing their statehood. Thus, the desire for European and Euro-Atlantic integration without negating Russia's position in the post-Soviet space was one of the main motives for the rapprochement of the four countries in the late 1990s. In addition to this strategic vision, the location of the region covered in terms of perspective transport routes, whose implementation would contribute not only to their economic well-being but also to regional and global economic security (including in the energy sector), played a role. At different times, each of the GUAM Member States has in turn had to face external aggression and occupation of their territories. For many years this became a basic problem that could not but affect the development of GUAM, to which we will return.
So, at the meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna in 1996, during the difficult and lengthy negotiations on the revision of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe of 1990 (CFE), four of Georgia's like-minded people were de facto formed. , Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. The idea was to amend the Treaty, the main task of which was to establish a military balance between NATO and the Warsaw Pact Organization with the help of the so-called Flank Restriction Agreement. The proposed (unexpectedly) US changes would allow Russia to maintain and even increase its military presence in the Caucasus and the Crimea. Such "concessions" to Moscow on the part of the West rightly seemed unacceptable to Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, who had experienced tensions in bilateral relations with Russia. By the way, it is believed that it was the Deputy Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, Araz Azimov, who authored the initiative as such, uniting representatives of four countries to coordinate their positions in the negotiation process. In the end, despite the fact that all four republics were forced to sign the treaty amendments, the process of further rapprochement was launched.
GUAM's birth date is October 10, 1997, the day when the presidents of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova met in the margins of the Second Council of Europe Summit in Strasbourg. At the time, it was nothing more than an Advisory Forum, named after the initial letters of the names of the countries involved. In their Joint Communiqué (the so-called Strasbourg Declaration), Presidents Eduard Shevardnadze, Leonid Kuchma, Heydar Aliyev and Petro Luchinski expressed the need for the countries they represented to make every effort to develop a common position on international political platforms on a number of issues. Some time later, on April 24, 1999, at the NATO Summit in Washington, USA, the Presidents of the five countries already adopted the Washington Declaration. For example, the Republic of Uzbekistan has joined the initiative, motivated to a large extent by deteriorating bilateral relations with Russia and suspension of participation in the Collective Security Treaty of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - Tashkent Pact of 1992. With the accession of Uzbekistan, the group of states was renamed GUUAM - as it turned out later, temporarily (in 2005, Tashkent withdrew from the integration project).
In 2006, the Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova union entered a qualitatively new stage of its formation. On May 22-23, 2006, the presidents of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova - Mikhail Saakashvili, Viktor Yushchenko, Ilham Aliyev and Vladimir Voronin - arrived in Kiev to participate in the first ever GUAM summit in a new capacity. The key political document of the summit - the Kiev Declaration - breathed life into an alliance with the new name - Organization for Democracy and Economic Development of ODER-GUAM - and laid its ideological foundation. Now it was no longer a group of friendly countries, but a full-fledged international organization with a well-defined structure, established headquarters and specific objectives. The charter of the organization, adopted in 2006, provided for the establishment of a GUAM Secretariat in Kiev to provide organizational and technical support to the activities of the organization under the guidance of the Secretary-General. In addition, the GUAM Chairmanship procedure was determined by one of four Member States - within one year, in accordance with the principle of rotation to ensure the proper functioning of GUAM and to coordinate all activities carried out within the organization.
This was followed by two more GUAM summits at the highest political level - in Baku (2007) and Batumi (2008). Both were held in an expanded format - with the participation of leaders and high-ranking officials of other states and international organizations. Such wide representation is a testament not only to the growing interest and confidence of the international community in the organization, but also to the consolidation of GUAM's role and political weight in the region and the world.
GUAM Member States have gone through a process of parallel (up to a certain point) integration into the European and Euro-Atlantic community: Association agreements with the EU are in place for three of the four countries today, as is the visa-free regime. Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova have also jointly overcome the so-called "geopolitical divorce" with the Soviet past (with different dynamics): three of the four countries are not members of the CIS and no Republic is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). They have traditionally supported one another in bringing fair positions on the settlement of military conflicts to the international community, in particular within the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the UN General Assembly. In 2014, Ukraine closed the circle of GUAM member states whose sovereignty and territorial integrity were violated due to aggression by Russia, and the problem of territorial de-occupation is far from resolved.
Do not forget about the two "flagship" projects within GUAM, the work on which with different success, but still continued - the creation of a free trade area and the development of the GUAM transport corridor.
But since the summit in Batumi in 2008, GUAM has entered a protracted stagnation period. Since that time, no meetings have been held at the level of heads of Member States. An organization with a well-established structure and agenda, a high degree of political cooperation and a solid reputation in the international arena has faced stark reality due to a number of factors:
- the softening of the West's position vis-à-vis Russia, the intensified already powerful influence of Moscow in the South Caucasus region as a result of the Russian-Georgian war of 2008;
- uncertain foreign policy orientation of Ukraine under Viktor Yanukovych in the period 2010-2013. and Moldova with the current de facto full authority of Igor Dodon;
- Russia's annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014 and Moscow's war in eastern Ukraine;
- weakening Azerbaijan's interest in European integration…
All these aspects have done their job. Unfortunately, GUAM's experience to date has shown more potential than practical achievements. It is hardly possible to name any specific project of the organization in the field of political and economic relations or in security matters that would be successfully implemented. Basically, this tendency is related to the differences in the agendas of the four countries in terms of their membership in the organization, as well as in their foreign policy priorities. Azerbaijan pursues economic goals to a greater extent; Moldova followed a largely pro-Western vector, with no particular geopolitical ambition (signs of the current "turn" towards Russia under President Dodon cannot be denied either); meanwhile, Ukraine and Georgia are more committed to European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
There is another "structural" reason for skepticism about GUAM. It is the absence of a "single point of support" in Member States to tackle the problem of territorial integrity, which remains painful for all four. The unresolved conflicts not only impede the institutional and political development of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova, but also lead to considerable humanitarian and economic losses. Transnistria's “care” has cost Moldova about 40 percent of GDP; Azerbaijani authorities estimate losses related to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at nearly $ 820 billion; Western media have noted a significant slump in the Georgian economy following the 2008 war; Ukraine has lost up to 20 percent of its GDP due to the Donbas conflict and more than a trillion US dollars due to the annexation of Crimea. However, the four countries failed to make full use of the GUAM's potential to achieve broad international support and an adequate response to claims to their territorial integrity and sovereignty. Three of the four Member States - Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - claim that they have temporarily lost control of some of their sovereign territories due to Russia's open actions, and Azerbaijan positions the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as an interstate conflict with Armenia. The integration project has never become a consolidating platform for achieving or at least approaching the de-occupation of territories. But he has not yet created a common economic base within GUAM.
From a low start…
Let's face it - the effectiveness of the trade and economic component of GUAM's activities remains low. The question remains whether the four states are ready and able to harmonize trade policy, adjust national legal systems accordingly, and make their economies more integrated. In fact, the free trade regime has long been in operation in the GUAM region (for Azerbaijan and Moldova - on the basis of a multilateral agreement within the CIS, for Georgia and Ukraine - in a bilateral format).
At the same time, we should not expect in the near future additional liberalization of the conditions of interstate trade in comparison with the rather favorable (at least on paper) provisions of the Agreement on the creation of a free trade zone, proposed by the CIS. Meanwhile, the potential of the GUAM Agreement on the Free Trade Area, which was signed in 2002 and entered into force in 2006, has not been fully realized. Moreover, GUAM countries continue to pursue asymmetric policies in this area. Three of the four republics (Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova) are members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and members of the free trade regime with the European Union (EU), which is not true of Azerbaijan. In this sense, Baku is far behind the others in terms of trade and economic integration of GUAM.
At the same time, 2017 provided a new opportunity for the implementation of the GUAM Free Trade Area. Fortunately, there was a turning point in the history of the organization - its kind of revival. On March 27, the Prime Ministers of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova and the Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan met in Kyiv at the first high-level GUAM meeting since 2008, expressing their intention to move away from GUAM's previous political position and adopt an economically oriented agenda. Since then, there have been three annual summits at the level of heads of government, and this gives hope for the best.
With such a track record, GUAM entered a new decade, and Ukraine passed the baton to friendly Azerbaijan. It is significant that in addition to the chairmanship as such, in 2019-2020, Azerbaijan was designated by the country-coordinator of GUAM working groups on cybersecurity and transport. Exactly behind the cooperation in the field of logistics, transport and coordination of international economic activity as a whole (including the free trade regime) is the future of the organization. This largely preserves GUAM in the sphere of special interests of Azerbaijan, which is located on a strategically important geopolitical space - at the intersection of the most important international transport and communication corridors that stretch from East to West and from North to South.
The three key corridors of the Great Silk Road, connecting Asia and Europe through Central Eurasia, somehow cover the territories of some or all of the GUAM member states. For example, the international transport corridor project Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA) has among its original signatories twelve countries, including Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. The GUAM Member States maintain partnerships within the Trans-European Transport Network on the creation and development of a pan-European network of rail lines and motorways, inland waterways, maritime and aviation communications.
At the "internal" level, Azerbaijan can take the lead in GUAM, with the current potential at its current stage. This may not in the least be related to the change in GUAM's own "hierarchy of needs" (as Abraham Maslow would call it). Since GUAM has never been able to become a powerful political platform in the field of regional security, the only way out at the current stage for the organization is to shift the focus to economic cooperation. As a matter of fact, Azerbaijan today has sufficient potential related to large-scale trade and transport projects - with direct or indirect involvement of the other three countries. In practice, this demonstrated the commissioning in 2017 of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, a transport corridor connecting the railway networks of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, as well as the active participation of Baku in the development of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TMTM) through the China, Kazakhstan, Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia towards Turkey and European countries.
At the same time, energy security in the region remains a pressing issue on GUAM's agenda. It is worth noting the factor of implementation of the Southern Gas Transport Corridor project, which includes the South Caucasus gas pipeline, the Turkish Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline and the Trans-Adriatic gas pipeline towards Southern Europe.
I would like to see 2020 for GUAM as the year of economic cooperation between Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Further steps can be expected to be taken to create a free trade area and to develop the GUAM transport corridor by stimulating industry cooperation and facilitating customs control procedures, developing transit routes and increasing freight traffic between Member States.
At the same time, according to the statement of the Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan Ali Ahmedov during the recent meeting of the Heads of Government of the GUAM Member States in Kiev, in 2020 the Azerbaijani side will pay attention to deepening political dialogue between the four countries. GUAM's success will largely depend on the political will of the Member States. And the Azerbaijani Presidency imposes certain obligations on Baku - first of all, in defining and initiating a further strategy of the organization based on launching and implementation of specific projects for the benefit of GUAM members and key regional players.
In this respect, the position of “active neutrality” of Azerbaijan can become decisive and constructive. Especially in the face of a dynamically changing geopolitical environment, it can help to properly position GUAM as an independent unit - as a project not “friendship for” or “friendship” against someone. GUAM is not an anti-Russian or pro-Western project, as if it had not been speculated in the Kremlin. Counteraction at different levels of the organization is no stranger to. But there is no room for pessimism regarding its prospects: GUAM will continue to develop an effective and mutually beneficial format for cooperation in Europe.
Narmina Mamishova, researcher in the field of international relations and foreign policy, bachelor of international law (Kiev Institute of International Relations, National Taras Shevchenko University), master's degree in "diplomacy and international relations" (Diplomatic Academy of ADA, Baku)