Policy Brief - Caspian Studies Program

Military Cooperation between Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova in the GUUAM Framework

Military Cooperation between Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan,

Azerbaijan and Moldova in the GUUAM Framework

Tomas  Valas¡ek

Tomas Valasek is a Senior Analyst at the Center for Defense Information, an independent non-profit research group monitoring U.S. and international military affairs. Mr. Valášek has written extensively about security issues in the Caspian and the Balkans.
* * *About GUUAM

GUAM emerged out of the 1996 round of talks held in Vienna on amending the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. The governments of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova decided to pool their diplomatic resources to oppose Russia''s efforts to station its weaponry in or near the territory of the organization''s member states. GUAM was expanded to GUUAM following Uzbekistan''s accession to the organization in April 1999.

In the words of one of its ambassadors, GUUAM is "a strategic alliance of countries with common problems and common threat perceptions."(1) GUUAM countries are bound by a desire to resist the perceived threat of Russian expansionism in the region. The similarities extend into other areas as well:

Energy: with the exception of Azerbaijan, all GUUAM countries remain dependent on supplies of oil and gas either from or through Russia. Azerbaijan has significant oil and gas reserves but all its exports go either through Russia or through countries that Russia is in a position to destabilize. The centrality of Moscow to the region''s energy needs poses a strategic, as well as an economic problem. Russia has successfully used the threat of suspending the supplies or redirecting the export routes to manipulate the foreign and domestic policies of the former Soviet Republics.

Territorial integrity: all GUUAM countries face either an active or potential secessionist movement on their territory. Uzbekistan has struggled with an extremist movement aiming to overthrow the government. These problems transcend national boundaries. Most of the actual or potential breakaway groups are affiliated with Russia, albeit to a different extent and in different forms. The threat of separatism thus becomes another tool of Russian foreign policy in its "near abroad."

Other former Soviet republics face similar problems. What sets GUUAM member states apart is their proposed solution: Western strategic orientation. GUUAM countries seek Western financial and political support to develop new energy transport routes, which would generate cash for the export and transit countries'' governments and reduce Russia''s influence in GUUAM countries'' foreign and domestic policies. GUUAM countries also seek Western political support as leverage against Russia''s influence in bodies tasked with resolving conflicts on their territory, such as the Minsk Group. The main focus of GUUAM, as reaffirmed in the September 2000 presidential communiqué(2) remains economic cooperation. Nevertheless, GUUAM countries have expanded their cooperation into other fields, such as anti-terrorist actions and military cooperation.

GUUAM''s Military Dimension
In the military realm, GUUAM countries primarily seek to build a viable alternative to the Russia-dominated regional security organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). All five GUUAM members either refused to join or subsequently quit CIS security arrangements.(3) Military cooperation within GUUAM serves as a stepping-stone to the ultimate goal of establishing institutional ties with or actually joining NATO. The Georgian Ambassador to the United States quipped, "NATO is GUUAM''s foster mother(4)."

Beyond this common goal, the countries'' interests differ. Azerbaijan (and to a lesser extent also Georgia) would like GUUAM to create military units tasked with protecting the future oil pipelines from Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan also floated the idea of creating peacekeeping units to be deployed in separatist conflict areas in GUUAM countries(5). Uzbekistan seeks military assistance in its ongoing conflict against a domestic insurgency movement.

GUUAM represents one of the more viable regional structures created on the former Soviet territory, although not without a set of problems and limitations. It was created on a positive impulse (as opposed to coercion), as a means of strengthening the members'' independence through cooperation and enticement of Western political and economic involvement and security assistance. While GUUAM''s members share a common view of the West as the most effective ally in their efforts to build fully independent states, the strength of their current pro-Western policies may vary (see below for more on domestic sources of GUUAM members'' foreign policy).

The breadth of GUUAM''s joint military efforts will be limited by the differences in the members'' national security interests. GUUAM remains an organization of states with partially overlapping but still quite different security interests. For example, pipeline protection is of paramount importance for Georgia and Azerbaijan while Ukraine, Moldova, and Uzbekistan are excluded from the pipeline routes favored by the other two members.

The scarce resources of the member states will limit the depth of their cooperation in the GUUAM framework. No GUUAM member is in a position to provide the night-vision scopes or other military equipment that Uzbekistan wants in order to fight the insurgency on its territory. Nor are GUUAM members able to provide military assistance to each other in case of an outside attack. Only Ukraine and Moldova in Eastern Europe and Georgia and Azerbaijan in the South Caucasus share a contiguous border. Without Western assistance-expertise, money, and materiel-many of GUUAM''s proposed activities will exist only on paper. In fact, one benefit of creating GUUAM lies precisely in establishing programs of cooperation with the express purpose of attracting Western (NATO) support and aid.

Of GUUAM''s peacekeeping proposals, some are promising while others could potentially be destabilizing. Ukraine, in particular, is well suited to lead peacekeeping missions in the former Soviet republics. It is generally perceived as an objective actor because it played no role in any of the conflicts now waging; furthermore, it has pursued a balanced foreign policy (see below for more information on Ukraine). Both Yerevan and Baku have signaled a willingness to explore placement of Ukrainian peacekeepers as part of a solution to the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. However, GUUAM''s ability to carry out peacekeeping duties will depend on the closeness of its association with the West. The more GUUAM is perceived as a regional affiliation of NATO and the EU, the less willing the insurgents in Nagorno-Karabagh, Transdniester, and Abkhazia will be to accept GUUAM troops as peacekeepers, since most of these movements have received backing from Russia. Ironically, GUUAM''s strategic goal-to forge an alliance with the West-runs counter to one of its main stated missions, peacekeeping.

Moreover, GUUAM members whose troops fought in conflicts in Nagorno-Karabagh, Abkhazia, and Transdniester are not in the position to provide truly neutral troops for peacekeeping in the same conflict area. Any attempt to deploy Azerbaijani troops in Nagorno-Karabagh as peacekeepers in the areas of separatist insurgencies would be rejected and fought by local forces. The same holds true for Georgian troops in Abkhazia and Moldavian troops in Transdniester. "Peacekeeping" in the former Soviet Union has often been used as a guise for establishing a strategic military presence. The CIS (that is, nominally CIS but in fact all Russian) peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia work alongside regular Russian troops stationed in Georgia (both the peacekeeping mission and the Russian bases were approved in the early 1990''s by the Georgian government only under pressure from Moscow).(6) Similarly, GUUAM countries may try to use peacekeeping or "peacemaking" as a means of establishing military control over the breakaway territories.

GUUAM was established with the express purpose of forging close institutional ties with the West, which, in the military realm, means NATO. But full alliance membership for GUUAM countries seems at best a long-term proposition as long as the United States views Eastern European affairs through the Moscow prism. Russia''s opposition to NATO expansion has only increased in recent years, while the leverage of the United States government over Russian foreign policy has decreased dramatically. Therefore, GUUAM''s policy of pursuing NATO membership may be unsustainable over the long term. If, as is likely, NATO membership does not materialize, GUUAM countries will eventually feel betrayed by the alliance''s perceived lack of interest and may turn against the ideas and principles that it represents. Under some circumstances, limited Western involvement may actually undermine GUUAM''s security. The expectation of Western support may encourage GUUAM countries to pursue a more confrontational policy toward Moscow than their own resources and limitations would otherwise dictate. If so, and if the West fails to come through with financial, political, and materiel support, GUUAM states will pay a price in form of destabilization and possible loss of independence.

U.S. policy should strive to avoid turning support for GUUAM into a zero-sum competition with Russia for influence in the region. One avenue is to encourage overlapping CIS and GUUAM memberships and cooperation programs. The two organizations share a number of interests in the region both with each other and with the West (such as curbing drug trafficking) that provide a natural platform for cooperation.

Besides reducing apprehension in Russia about GUUAM, overlapping memberships and joint activities would also serve to lessen tensions over foreign policy within GUUAM countries. The current Western orientation of GUUAM countries enjoys only a qualified support from the populations of GUUAM countries. The government of Ukraine, for example, must balance two conflicting views of the country''s foreign policy. On the one hand, Ukraine relies on Moscow for trade and energy supplies, and the eastern part of the country harbors strong pro-Moscow sentiments. On the other hand, most Ukrainians are concerned about losing independence to Moscow, and influential political elements in the West of the country are openly suspicious of Moscow''s intentions. As a result, Ukraine has found it impossible to chart a clearly Western course. The Kiev government periodically slows down rapprochement with the West in order to repair its relations with Moscow. Its future foreign policy is likely to be one of balancing the desire to join Western institutions against the need to maintain good ties with its large eastern neighbor. In Uzbekistan, one can hardly speak of a foreign policy consensus given that a wide and open foreign policy debate does not take place at this stage in Tashkent.

The West must also be clear about the nature and amount of its support for GUUAM to avoid creating exaggerated expectations in GUUAM countries. Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova have formed their partnership with the implicit goal of enlisting Western aid against a potential Russian expansionism in the region. GUUAM countries will-and already do-base their policy vis-à-vis Moscow partly on the extent of the support they expect to receive from the United States and Europe. The worst possible outcome for all parties is one in which GUUAM, misreading Western support, pursues an aggressive policy toward Russia and finds itself isolated in the case of a Russian military, political, or economic counteroffensive.

Western policy toward GUUAM will inevitably have an impact on Russian-Western ties as well. A mixture of genuine national security concerns combined with the desire to retain influence over the region''s political and economic affairs guide Russia''s security policy in the GUUAM countries. Without prejudice to the nature of future U.S.-Russian relations, U.S. policy toward GUUAM must take into account that Moscow is willing to expend considerable diplomatic, military, and financial capital to pursue its goals there. What Moscow lacks in resources it more than makes up in its resolve to remain an actor in the region. The more confrontational the relationship between GUUAM and Russia becomes, the more Russia will intensify its efforts to undermine GUUAM''s links with the West and to destabilize the member countries themselves.

1. Tepo Japaridze, Ambassador of the Republic of Georgia to the United States, Capitol Hill, May 17, 2000.
2. New York Memorandum of the Presidents of the Republic of Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine and the Republic of Uzbekistan, September 6, 2000, New York, www.guuam.org.
3. CIS'' military component, formed by the 1992 Tashkent Treaty, originally included Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Of the five GUUAM countries, Ukraine and Moldova never acceded to CIS security structures while Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan stopped participating in CIS military cooperation programs after GUUAM''s inception. In October 2000, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan signed a new CIS Collective Security Treaty in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They pledged to focus on combating domestic terrorism and protecting external borders.
4. Tepo Japaridze, Ambassador of the Republic of Georgia to the United States, Capitol Hill, May 17, 2000.
5. "Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan Pledge Closer Ties," Reuters, January 25, 1999.
6. In 1999, Russia agreed to close two of its regular army bases in Georgia, Vaziani and Gudauta, by 2001 in order to comply with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Moscow also agreed to negotiate with Tbilisi a closure of the two remaining bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi. However, during talks with Georgia on the actual withdrawal, Russia began to argue that it needs to retain Gudauta as a staging ground for its peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia. Similarly, Moscow insists on keeping the airfield at the Vaziani base in order to service the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases. The outcome of the Georgian-Russian talks is still unclear, the negotiators are due to meet again in December.
For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Valasek, Tomas. “Military Cooperation between Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova in the GUUAM Framework.” Policy Brief, Caspian Studies Program, .