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19 Jun, 2007 02:36

GUAM leaders meet in Azerbaijani capital

The leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova are meeting in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, to discuss strengthening their Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development, known as GUAM.

It is the second summit of the organisation – praised by the West as the way to democratic reform, but seen by many Russians as an attempt to counterbalance the country's historic influence in the region.

In 1997 the leaders of the four former Soviet republic countries formed an organisation to serve as an alternative to Russian influence in the region.

GUAM was started by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. In 1999, Uzbekistan joined the organisation became GUUAM.  But when the Central Asian country withdrew in 2005, the quartet went back to its original abbreviation.

Internal problems that exist in each of the GUAM countries remain obstacles to an efficient integration process.

Georgia has its breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have been de facto independent after civil wars launched in the final years of the Soviet Union.

Ukraine's Crimea has a Russian population of 70%, and faces additional problems with Crimean Tatars who seek the establishment of a national autonomy.

Azerbaijan does not have control over Nagorno-Karabakh.

And for Moldova, the situation of the breakaway Trans-Dniester region remains unresolved – 16 years after it started.

Russia's Black Sea Fleet will be in Crimea until 2017. And Russian peacekeeping forces have been stationed in Trans-Dniester, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia.

“The ideas that now will be discussed at the summit, including the creation of certain peacemaking forces, clearly duplicate mechanisms which exist and work.  In particular, the experience of Russian peacekeepers in the Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Trans-Dniester conflicts has been successful – as conflicts have essentially been frozen,” Konstantin Kosachev, Head of State Duma International Committee, said.

The leaders of GUAM countries are looking to boot Russian peacekeepers and replace them with ones trained and loyal to the West. To some Russian policy makers, this decision is perceived as submission to influence from the outside – at the expense of Russia and its role in maintaining regional stability.

“This is bad – for Baku, for Tbilisi, for Chisinau, for everyone.  And it is also bad for Russia. They will suffer. And the West will win.  They are being used as fools,” Russia's State Duma Vice Speaker, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said.

As the geographically-strategic Eurasia continues to be developed and defined, the leaders look to maintain stability in the region – and see to it that integrating organisations do not serve as sources of extended conflict.