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Friday, June 29, 2007

GUAM Threatens Russia

June 19, 2007 - Kommersant by Gennady Sysoev - Russia’s current attitude to GUAM may be described so: the policy to counteract this organization it growing into the policy to collapse it. This transformation happened after the price of GUAM’s existence had become considerably higher for Russia: the alliance began turning into a structure that got in the way of Russia’s aspiration to control CIS energy supplies to the West. Moscow felt strong dislike towards GUAM (originally – GUUAM) ever since the alliance’s birth, because its member states were not hiding that they united specifically to restrict Russia’s influence on the post-Soviet space. So, it pushed Russia to taking steps in response. First, Russia asked for membership in the alliance, but received a polite refusal: no one needed a Trojan Horse there. Then, Moscow changed its strategy. To spite GUAM, the Euro-Asian Economic Community (EurAsEC) was founded, uniting Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Armenia, that joined them later. Then Russia took another step towards unhinging GUAM: it initiated accepting Uzbekistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Nevertheless, it was too early to see all those steps as the purposeful policy for collapsing the alliance. Although Moscow disliked GUAM, it put up with its existence, and even bore the strikes inflicted by it. Thus, Moscow reconciled itself to the fact that for the sake of membership in the new alliance, Uzbekistan left in 1999 the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), to which Russia always attributed strategic significance. Moscow also put up with GUAM members’ unanimously acting in various international organizations (for instance, the OSCE), and taking steps according to EU and U.S. wishes, rather than the Kremlin’s. Last year, however, GUAM underwent a drastic change. First, the alliance renamed itself into the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. Second, it decided to closely handle the energy security issues, so as to successfully counteract Russia’s oil and natural gas levers of influence. It radically changed the situation for Moscow. Two GUAM member states control the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, inaugurated in 2006, which became a significant alternative route for supplying Caspian oil to Europe. The Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline is going thru Georgia and Azerbaijan. Moreover, the launch of the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline, detouring Russia thru Ukraine’s territory and leading to Poland, is just a matter of time. Thus, GUAM might eventually become a structure thru which the West will gain an alternative to Russia’s access to CIS energy resources. Meanwhile, it will strike a strong blow against the key part of current Moscow’s strategy of strengthening its influence in the world.

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