Ukraine has joined with other former Soviet states Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova to form GUAM, an pro-Western organization that is seen as a counterweight to the Kremlin-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS):
(AFP, Bakutoday.net) Leaders of four ex-Soviet countries vowed Tuesday to boost cooperation and seek closer ties with the West as they aim to shake off Russian influence.
The presidents of Georgia and Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili and Viktor Yushchenko, were in the Azerbaijani capital Baku for a summit with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev.
Their four countries make up the GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) group of former Soviet states, which is seen as a counterweight to the Kremlin-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was also attending as an observer, promised to support their efforts to limit what he called "energy blackmail" by Moscow.
At their meeting the four GUAM states promised to pursue plans to ship oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia and Ukraine to Europe.
Their efforts were heartily welcomed by Kaczynski, while the staunchly pro-Western Saakashvili hailed the meeting as "a geopolitical revolution."
In a clear reference to Russian control of European energy supplies, Poland's Kaczynski said that "under conditions of energy blackmail, energy projects (with GUAM states) are of great interest."
Azerbaijan is the start point of a strategic new oil pipeline to the West that has been backed by Washington as a way of reducing Moscow's grip on oil supplies from the former Soviet Union, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline.
Aliyev, whose country's oil and gas reserves are keenly sought by fellow members of GUAM and by the European Union, said the organisation was gaining in international weight.
"GUAM, in a short time, has turned into a serious organisation. Its goals are of interest to many countries," Aliyev said.
By boosting transport and energy links, GUAM members are "building a bridge between Europe and Asia," he said.
Saakashvili thanked Azerbaijan for increasing gas exports to his country after a large price-hike by Moscow at the end of last year that some critics saw as politically motivated.
"It was a heartfelt gesture and an important strategic decision," he said, adding that GUAM was surpassing the CIS as a basis for cooperation.
"GUAM seriously differs from the CIS, which has become only a club for meetings of heads of state," he said.
Kaczynski, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Romanian President Traian Basescu attended the talks in a show of support for GUAM's pro-Western aspirations. Kaczynski said he would support the efforts of some GUAM members to join the European Union and NATO.
Aliyev said the members would also present a united front in dealing with separatist conflicts in their countries. Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova are all dealing with breakaway regions.
But Russian newspapers on Tuesday detected cracks within the GUAM group.
While Georgia and Ukraine have primarily viewed GUAM as a
pro-Western regional bloc, Azerbaijan has been more cautious and Moldova's position is unclear.
The Russian newspapers said Moscow would take comfort from the absence on Tuesday of Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and the sending of his prime minister instead.
Voronin is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday, Kommersant newspaper reported.
"Moscow managed to strike a pre-emptive blow against its opponents," the paper wrote. "Voronin has apparently decided to stay away from the company of Russia's enemies.
Publication date: 20 June 2007