GUUAM AND EQUAL REGIONAL COOPERATION
Yuri Kochubei, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ukraine, president of the Ukrainian Foreign Policy Society (Ukraine)
In 1997, four post-Soviet states (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) created an informal union, which Uzbekistan later joined in 1999. The formation of GUUAM was spurred by the common interests of its members in executing their sovereign right to develop their national economies as a whole, and the power engineering sector in particular. These states also joined to facilitate adaptation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE Treaty) to the situation that developed after 1989-1991 in Eastern Europe. A short time later, other common problems also became pertinent for these states. In particular, their attitude toward the Eurasian transportation corridor, toward activating reciprocal trade, and toward political stability in the Caucasian-Asian subregion contiguous to the Caspian oil- and gas-bearing shelf. There is also a certain element of military-technical cooperation among these states in their search for a solution to the wide range of problems which have arisen in the transnational cooperative community and which relate to GUUAM’s present and future. And this is entirely understandable, since the armed forces of all the GUUAM states no longer belong to the Soviet Army. Therefore, it is very natural that each of these countries must resolve a multitude of identical and specific issues, such as equipping their armies with new types of weapons, modernizing outmoded types of armaments and defense technology, training professional personnel, and so on.
All of these common problems are caused by objective factors. As we know, the Soviet Union’s military-industrial complex had a certain specificity, due to which airplanes could be repaired in one place, tanks in another, helicopters in a third (thousands of kilometers from their site of deployment).
Today, all of these countries are members of the CIS (Ukraine has its own specific status) and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSECO)—Uzbekistan is not a member of this now full-fledged regional structure, but wishes to join it—and, it would seem, have the opportunity not only to meet and hold joint consultations, but also to resolve the problems which arise. However, the configuration, internal content, normative functions, and mutual obligations of these organizations do not take into account all the specifics of GUUAM. On the one hand, the members of this association are not participants in the military element of the CIS—the Tashkent Pact, and on the other, they all arose in a specific post-Soviet space, which distinguishes them from the other members of the BSECO. Each of these countries has its “sore points,” which have an impact on their foreign and domestic policy and complicate the resolution of economic and domestic political problems, thus sporadically provoking political and socioeconomic instability.
It is sufficient to mention Pridnestrovie, the situation in Nagorny Karabakh, the Abkhazian-Georgian conflict, the Russian military base in the Crimea, Uzbekistan’s problems with its restless southern neighbors, and the protracted process of border demarcation between the newly independent states of Central Asia.
The events of 11 September in the U.S. showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that peace-loving and democratic states must closely cooperate not only in resolving their common problems of preventing and suppressing international terrorism and its possible hotbeds. For it is precisely unresolved sociopolitical and economic issues, and unsettled social, ethnic, and interconfessional conflicts that incite extremism and terrorism to raise their ugly heads. In our opinion, the GUUAM states should create a kind of “security belt” around the perimeter of their borders, from West to East, to the point where they join the borders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
There is no doubt that this interaction will help to eradicate terrorism and other negative phenomena, such as illicit arms trade, drug trafficking, illegal migration, piracy, trading in women, children, and internal organs, laundering dirty money by transnational criminal groups, and so on, which have recently been contaminating the atmosphere of international relations.
When the conversation turns to GUUAM and Ukraine’s active role in this association, several official representatives of our country immediately begin making excuses for themselves, as though our state is doing something reprehensible, illegal, or undignified. But dozens and hundreds of regional and subregional organizations have been created throughout the world, since they are necessary for coordinating and regulating specific issues relating exclusively to the economic interests of the states they unite.
In our opinion, showing an interest in an interstate cooperative project such as GUUAM should not make us feel guilty, since such an association by definition cannot threaten our northern neighbor, where this organization is perceived with unconcealed (and in no way justified) irritation.
We will note that from the very beginning of its existence, GUUAM has aroused a certain misunderstanding in the Russian Federation, although none of its participants have ever expressed any complaints about or made any pretensions toward this country. It appears that certain circles in Russia associated with the export and transportation of energy resources see this structure as a threat to the right they have assumed to conduct affairs independently throughout the post-Soviet space, particularly in the CIS, which they consider a kind of projection of the Soviet Union. But mature reasoning dictates that prearranged dependence, when a group of countries is tied to Russia by patron-client relations, cannot last forever. And naturally the time came to look for alternatives which would allow each country (or group of countries) to liberate themselves from their strict dependence on a state which acts as the monopoly holder of energy resource shares.
The search for alternative energy supplies has objectively helped to bring the interests of this group of countries closer. They have joined their shares and are producing, transporting, and consuming raw minerals by creating their own international cooperative structure. For the GUUAM states, these are shares deposited in the transnational project on the technological chain: production, export, and re-export of energy resources. It is just as natural that internal groups appear in any formal association which are not necessarily antagonistic toward their common supranational system, in this case the CIS, but are looking for ways to resolve their own specific problems, and grouping “according to interests” or according to some other objective characteristics. For example, within the CIS, the Russia-Belarus Union, Customs Union, and Central Asian Economic Union arose, and not that long ago a relatively strong (at least potentially) association was organized on Russia’s initiative, whereby very rapidly and efficiently—the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC). In addition, there is the “Shanghai Five,” which subsequently became the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). In Western Europe, we know of the European Union, the Northern Alliance, the Weimar Triangle, the Vyshegrad Group, and so on. In addition to these associations, there are also the OSCE and BSECO.
All of these transnational associations are natural formations which do not contradict the ideas of general European integration, since sovereign states have the inalienable right to form any groups, providing they are not aimed against other countries which do not belong to these structures.
Russia is ultimately the largest and most powerful country in the post-Soviet space, but its foreign policy does not always and completely coincide with the interests and orientation of the other CIS members. It does not coordinate its right with any of the CIS countries to create economically and politically advantageous transnational associations with other countries.
It is no secret that the GUUAM members are attracting growing interest from the U.S. and Western European countries, which have very good justification for this. And this interest goes far beyond the bounds of anti-Russian insinuations, as Russia itself sometimes interprets any manifestation by the sovereign states of their will and economic priorities. It is crystal clear that the West is paying very understandable attention to the energy resources in the Caspian and Caucasian region, if only to diversify the sources for delivering hydrocarbons to their consumer markets. This is particularly important if we keep in mind the unstable situation in the Middle East, which is arousing very justifiable anxiety among the western importers of energy resources.
It stands to reason that if both Russia and the U.S. are showing an interest in the Caspian shelf, the GUUAM states can also (and do) have their own interests in this sector, for which they may have different reasons. And because of these reasons, we do not see anything reprehensible in the fact that the association member states are counting precisely on the cumulative effect. It is a generally known fact that the national economies of the GUUAM states are still dealing with the consequences of belonging to a superpower, where everything was subordinated to the interests of the Center. In addition, they are all aggravated by specific problems which must be resolved rapidly and efficiently. Some Russian experts say that the economy of the GUUAM countries is weak and dependent in terms of many parameters on external factors, not only economic, but also, of course, political, which, in their opinion, deprive the organization of hopes for a propitious future. It appears that these experts are forgetting that this was the very reason GUUAM was created, so that each country of the association could overcome the difficulties together, in the spirit of equal partnership and joint efforts, rather than having to struggle along on its own. This is primarily necessary in order to avoid complete dependence on negative external factors.
Only such an association, in our opinion, is capable of ensuring equal cooperation without the “big brother” phenomenon, without a single country (either within the association or beyond it) striving to dominate single-handedly in the energy production field.
Thus, by reinforcing their energy independence, the GUUAM states are aiming to protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity. All the previous experience of transnational organizations built on the principle of subordination illustrates that the rallying of less powerful states around a single superpower inevitably leads to their dependence on it, with all the accompanying negative consequences. Primarily those consequences that affect their national economies and, as a result, their entire sociopolitical infrastructure.
Therefore, when talking about the status of each of the GUUAM states, we insist on the term “equal” as an inviolable element of the concept of “cooperation.”
As mentioned above, there were very objective and specific reasons for the formation of GUUAM, relating to resolving the energy supply problems that arose after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But it soon became clear that the association’s member states would gain additional advantages by expanding the scope of their economic cooperation. In other words, rapprochement took place very intrinsically and naturally and not as the result of some mercenary plans aimed against a mythical enemy. Moreover, by this time the CIS was increasingly discovering its inability to resolve any specific problems its individual members may have.
Just as obvious was the fact that a powerful catalyst in the formation of GUUAM was resurrection of the idea of a transregional transportation-communication corridor similar to the ancient Great Silk Road that at one time linked Europe and Asia. As early as 1987, UNESCO voiced the idea of restoring this historic road, which was supposed to revive civilizational ties between the two continents. And the discovery of new prospective oil supplies in the Caspian region gave this plan a powerful boost and urgently raised the question of transporting energy resources from this region, as well as from the Central Asian countries, to their main consumer, the countries of the West. Thus, plans began taking shape to create a Eurasian oil and gas transportation corridor, which would in no way contradict the multiprofile European project TRACECA, but could harmoniously coexist with it. The GUUAM states are key and very convenient (from the geographical viewpoint) territories for transit shipments of oil and natural gas to the European raw hydrocarbon markets. In addition, the European countries have been feeling the keen need for a Eurasian transportation corridor, even aside from the energy resources produced in Central Asia and on the Caspian shelf that are so vital to their economies. This is also confirmed by the decision of the European Conference of Transportation Ministers on the development of a grandiose project for a Lisbon-Beijing highway, which is also to pass through Ukraine, as well as on the development of a ferry service between the ports of the western and eastern shores of the Black Sea. In this way, mutual economic interest is a reliable stimulus for implementing the GUUAM project.
It is presumed that not only the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are interested in a reliable way to transport raw hydrocarbons produced on the Caspian shelf, but also West European states, which are trying to reduce their dependence on the energy resources of the Persian Gulf and Russia. This is particularly pertinent, since the way things stand at the moment a situation could arise in these regions capable of destabilizing the energy resource market. In our opinion, a sufficiently reliable way could be the Baku-Supsa-Odessa-Brody-Gdansk route, the shortest, least expensive, and simplest access (which removes the question of tankers crossing the Bosporus) to the raw material markets of Central, Western, and Northern Europe—the Baltic and Scandinavian countries.
In so doing, this oil pipeline will not compete with the Baku-Ceyhan route, the construction of which, despite its expense and passage through unsafe territories, is supported by many representatives of the international oil business. Naturally, taking into account Ukraine’s very developed oil refining infrastructure, including sufficient capacities for storing petroleum products, the Odessa-Brody project makes it possible for Ukraine to ensure that a portion of the Caspian oil passes through its territory.
It is clear that the economic efficiency of the Odessa-Brody-Gdansk pipeline will depend on keeping it supplied to capacity. Thus, in order to provide the pipeline with the necessary amount of oil, GUUAM must involve Kazakhstan and the transnational companies operating in the eastern sector of the Caspian shelf in the projects. However, in order to interest them in this cooperation, the European Union and the U.S. must offer them advantageous conditions and create an international consortium for operating the oil pipeline. After all, not only the producing countries, but also the consumer countries are interested in the stable delivery of oil to Europe.
As for Poland, its entry into the European Union should in no way prevent it from closely cooperating with the GUUAM states. Moreover, it is presumed that Poland’s membership in GUUAM could provide additional stimulus for the economically and technologically efficient implementation of this project.
We are convinced that, based on mutually advantageous economic interests, the European Union should also be interested in developing close relations with GUUAM. What is more, these countries, which are important suppliers of raw material, primarily energy resources, represent a very extensive and prospective consumer market. What is more, experts believe that the region’s subsurface has still not been fully explored, and the predictions of its supplies are extremely encouraging.
Cooperation between the European Union and GUUAM will help to expand the zone of stability beyond the current bounds of Europe, which we believe needs to be augmented; and this should be of interest to everyone. This cooperation will in itself make it possible to resolve an extremely complicated and in no way rhetorical question today: “Where will Europe’s eastern border lie?” Close economic, political and cultural integration will make this question less urgent and merely turn it into a provisional geographical concept.
As we see it, cooperation between the European Union and the GUUAM states will eventually make the world arena multipolar with one of the geopolitical poles (along with the United States, Russia, the Asia-Japanese, the Asia-Chinese, and other poles) being Europe. It stands to reason that we need to be thinking now about how to give the European pole mighty potential and an advantageous geostrategic position, which makes interaction with the GUUAM states very apropos. In this respect, it is befitting to remind everyone of the growing contacts between China and the U.S., on the one hand, and the Central Asian countries, on the other, which could have important historical and geopolitical consequences for the development of the world community.
As for the psychology of interstate relations, it is extremely important that public opinion in the GUUAM states does not perceive the European Union as a superpower with neo-colonial strivings. Thus, a jointly created zone of stability and cooperation could have a positive impact on the situation in Russia’s unsettled South and help to prevent potential and constructively resolve current ethnic and interconfessional conflicts.
On the other hand, stability and gradual changes in the economy of the GUUAM states will help to fight international organized crime, illegal immigration, illicit drug trafficking, and trading in “live commodities.”
Thus, the EU and GUUAM have many common interests, which should inevitably be manifested in various forms of cooperation.
Some experts state that GUUAM is Russia’s competitor. But since there is no political or military opposition between it and the GUUAM states, they can only compete in the economic sphere. This phenomenon is well known throughout the world, and all of its difficulties and problems are resolved by means of negotiations and the search for compromise. Other specialists believe that Ukraine and the rest of the GUUAM members will oppose the transportation of Russian oil and natural gas to Western Europe. This opinion is absolute nonsense. Ukraine as a transit state is economically interested in as many Russian raw hydrocarbons as possible passing through its territory and will try to create conditions of the greatest privilege for its transit. Another group of experts maintains that GUUAM does not have the corresponding economic and technological base necessary for creating and successfully operating a complex and multiprofile infrastructure. Such a categorical verdict, which denies the GUUAM states the right to independently resolve their own problems, does not correspond to reality. A preliminary analysis of the situation alone gives every reason to believe that the existing and very natural difficulties relating to this project are entirely surmountable.
A comprehensive analysis of the current situation gives an indication of GUUAM’s main priorities. As we see it, the member states of this international organization must reinforce their joint economic base, consolidate efforts to resolve the economic problems in each country, and support each other in gaining membership to the WTO, of which Georgia is a member, and to other international economic structures.
It stands to reason that full-fledged implementation of the project requires joint efforts from the countries participating in it, including at a state level. GUUAM today has outgrown its unilinear functions and the status of a mere transportation corridor for the transit of raw hydrocarbons and other commodities and become a multifunctional route for full information exchange and cultural cooperation between the countries of the East and West. And this is legitimate, since for several centuries, the peoples of the countries that now belong to GUUAM were deprived of their sovereign rights and were on the cultural periphery of a domineering Center.
This is one of the reasons why only carefully selected samples of local folklore, such as dances, songs, costumes, and the decorative applied artwork of national masters, were permitted beyond the borders of the Soviet Union. This is approximately the way in which colonizers demonstrated the aboriginal culture of their foreign domains in America, Africa, and the Asian East to the people of Europe. Such a selection made it impossible to even breath a word about outstanding historical figures and national heroes. An incident comes to mind when Mongolia decided to ask UNESCO to mark the anniversary of Genghis Khan, the most prominent and well-known figure of Mongolian history. But “big Soviet brother” dissuaded its satellites from doing this, and the question was no longer raised. For in Soviet historical science (and today in Russian), a biased, Eurocentric approach to this individual predominated, which was unequivocally negative. At that time, the “country of victorious socialism” could not have cared less that the Mongols themselves knew Genghis Khan not only as a conqueror, but primarily as the founder of a great state. And, of course, their evaluation of his deeds could not coincide with the European viewpoint. For a long time, “good” heroes in Russia were only collaborators. We are well aware what the Russians thought about Imam Shamil, for example, the outstanding leader of the national-liberation struggle of the peoples of the Northern Caucasus in the 19th century. But can such evaluations which distort history and do not correspond to the vision of the historical process that developed in another country really be considered objective?
As mentioned above, in our opinion, GUUAM has great prospects for developing cultural ties, tourism, and cooperation in science and education. Admittedly, in recent years, Samuel Huntington and the supporters of his conception maintain that the 21st century will see a clash of civilizations. We cannot agree with this, since world history shows that a gradual, although very slow mutual rapprochement of civilizations is occurring. Europe has had relations with Asia since the times of Alexander III of Macedon and even earlier historical periods. In the Middle Ages, Avicenna (Abu Ali Ibn Sina), like Abu Nars al-Farabi or Averroës (Ibn Rushd) were known in Europe, and Christianity came to the Caucasus much earlier than it arrived in the currently highly developed European countries. Soviet culture (if we take into account its positive aspects) was nevertheless Europeanized, and this makes it incorrect to talk about the civilization gap that supposedly separates the GUUAM states and Europe. Overcoming Eurocentrism is gradually leading to a more active and fruitful exchange of spiritual values among the representatives of Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, and will finally become that reality of world literature (Weltliteratur) which Goethe wrote about.
In our day and age, when globalization processes are gathering momentum and bringing about dramatic changes in the information space and the communication and transportation system, mutual permeation of civilizations will doubtlessly progress at a much more intensive pace. Wars and conflicts between peoples have always been based on very tangible material factors, the struggle was for resources, no matter how the initiators of military expansion tried to camouflage their true reasons with ideology. Therefore, even in the present century, contradictions and conflicts will arise not because of civilizational differences, but will continue to revolve around resources (in the broadest sense of the word). We can only hope that mankind will not allow itself to become embroiled in a new world war.
The creation of a normal climate necessary for beneficial cooperation between peoples and eliminating ingrained, frequently irrational stereotypes, can also be assisted by such a transnational organization as GUUAM. It has united different nationalities, five sovereign, equal states, which are not striving to become superpowers, Europeans, Asians, Muslims, and Christians. There is no doubt that the development of scientific, educational, and cultural ties among the countries of this organization will assist the exchange of spiritual values between nationalities, and help to advance ideas of liberalism and democracy in the East, as well as accumulate experience in reaching a civilized resolution of economic and social problems. And all of this will take place by retaining the individuality of each participant and respect for each other’s traditions and spiritual values, without violence and assimilation, and without attempts to artificially create a “nation,” as took place during the years of Soviet power.
On the other hand, rational and pragmatic Europe will have the opportunity to become better acquainted with the rich traditions of the peoples of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and their centuries-old heritage, and harmonize its technological experience with the living sources of the East’s ancient cultures. Ukraine and Moldova could act as a joining link in this process.
Learning each other’s languages should also play an important role in the development of friendly relations. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma talked about this as an indispensable requirement of the new stage in world civilization in his speech (November 2000) to students and professors at the International Relations Institute at Taras Shevchenko Kiev National University. The time has come for us to dispense with all kinds of go-betweens and come into direct contact with our GUUAM partners, and not only with them. Azeri and Georgian are already being taught at the Eastern Department of Kiev National University, in addition to three main languages of the Muslim East (Arabian, Persian, and Turkish), with Uzbek and Crimean-Tatar also being taught as electives. And at the Baku Slavic University in Azerbaijan, a Ukrainian cultural center has been opened.
Of course, learning a language should be accompanied by studying the culture and civilization of the particular nationality. For knowledge of the language alone is no longer enough today, the history, literature, folklore, and cultural traditions of other countries must also be studied in order to make contacts more authentic, stronger, and mutually beneficial.
The fact that mutual understanding of each other’s history, culture, and traditions is important even in vulgar-travesty form, is shown, in particular, by the article entitled “The Refuse Heaps of History. The Leaders Are, As Usual, Acting as Garbage-Men,” published on 26 October, 2000 in the newspaper Izvestia. It showed caricatures of Ukrainian leader of the late 17th and early 18th century Ivan Mazepa and outstanding Uzbekistan statesman Tamerlane, whose anniversary was respectfully celebrated, including in Ukraine.
It is extremely important for all of us to discard the negative stereotypes about Islam, a religion which is professed by billions of people on the planet. To the immense disgrace of the civilized West, several near-sighted politicians are trying to make a bugbear of this religion, which is one of the most prominent in the world. We should become acquainted with Islam and its civilization through original sources, then our understanding of the truly tragic pages of the Christian-Islamic confrontation, which has cast gloom on the lives of neighboring countries for centuries, will be objective and balanced. Each nationality has its own history with its inherent logic, and it is impossible to judge it and its officials subjectively, from the viewpoint of only one of the sides.
The GUUAM states are located on the route of the historical Great Silk Road, along which from West to East and East to West people of science and art followed in the footsteps of the merchants and books, works of art, and the latest technology, including the technology of social life, followed in the wake of commodities. Civilizations met and richened each other with their values, exchanged their experience and knowledge, and created new possibilities for reaching common heights of humanism and culture.
The new third millennium should become an era for raising the prosperity and boosting the culture of all the peoples on the planet. The interests of all countries must be taken into account on the basis of equal tolerance, and the greatest achievements of the West and the East should be enjoyed by one and all.