Russian TV Sees Revitalized GUAM As Possible Threat To CIS

LONDON, UK -- The GUAM summit which brought together the leaders of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova in Kiev was generally seen by Russian TV channels as an attempt to revitalize the organization so it would become a Russia-free alternative to the CIS.

Presidents (L-R) Vladimir Voronin of Modova, Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia raise their arms during a photo call at the GUAM summit in Kiev

Gazprom's NTV played down the threat to the CIS, while Moscow-government-owned Centre TV saw the renewed GUAM as potentially viable, particularly if plans for a Caspian-EU energy corridor came to fruition.

State channel Rossiya (RTV) viewed the organization as a US-funded attempt to counterbalance Russia's influence in the former Soviet Union area.

Although the Russian Foreign Ministry issued statements saying it did not view GUAM as an anti-Russian coalition, prime-time TV news reports on the summit generally took the view that an element of anti-Russian feeling was involved.

NTV Segodnya news programme on 23 May raised concerns about the summit's pro-Western focus, but then played down the possibility the organization would pose a threat to the CIS.

"In Kiev today there was criticism of the CIS and calls to move closer to NATO and the European Union", presenter Aleksey Pivovarov said.

The ensuing report featured comments by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko that full European integration was GUAM's main aim, while correspondent Roman Sobol cited a survey that showed that more than 60 per cent of Kiev residents believed that GUAM was an anti-Russian organization.

However, Sobol went on to say that the majority of those involved in the summit did not view the end of the CIS as imminent. "Although GUAM is called an alternative CIS, here they prefer somewhat less strident wording: not a replacement for the CIS but in parallel with the CIS,"

Sobol said, pointing out that only Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had categorically expressed a wish to leave the commonwealth.

The report suggested that the four member states were fundamentally incompatible and hinted that this may well hinder the organization's progress. "The Georgian and Ukrainian president's are old friends and leaders of colour revolutions.

But often the question arises: what links them to the Moldovan Communist Voronin and Azerbaijani leader Aliyev?" Sobol asked. Centre TV the same day also asked similar questions about the viability of GUAM, but was less quick to dismiss the possibility the organization could be successful.

Introducing the report presenter Nikolay Petrov highlighted the fundamental differences between the GUAM member states. "GUAM is now called the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development.

True, it is not entirely clear exactly what Communist Vladimir Voronin and crown prince Ilham Aliyev have to do with democracy," he said pointedly.

Correspondent Aleksandr Ogorodnikov noted that "it seems shared grudges against Russia unite the four presidents more closely than their common goals", but added that Aliyev had made a point of stressing Azerbaijan's good relations with Russia.

However, Ogorodnikov warned that if GUAM's proposed Caspian-EU energy corridor "which threatens to take the bread from Russia's mouth" became a reality, then conflict between Moscow and Baku would be unavoidable.

Nevertheless, the report saw the energy plans and the agreements on creating of a free-trade zone as a good basis for the future of "GUAM mark-II", especially as it has US support.

"So, GUAM, which nearly disintegrated six years ago, now seems to have a real chance of success," Ogorodnikov said. He went on to suggest that expansion to include Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania might even be on the cards.

RTV's Vesti on 23 May saw the plans for an energy corridor as the main aim of GUAM, which it suggested was nothing more than a US foreign policy tool.

Presenter Mikhail Antonov introduced the report with claims that the organization was funded by the USA. "GUAM's main task is to create a counterbalance to the CIS and provide an energy corridor from the Caspian to Europe, bypassing Russia.

The people who thought up this plan and are willing to finance it can only be found far beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union," he said. He added that because of this the abbreviation GUAM is particularly apt, as Guam is also the name of the American military base "from which the USA put political and military pressure on those it disliked".

The ensuing video report featured comments by political analysts which supported this view of the USA's role. Mikhail Pogrebinskiy, director of the Kiev-based Centre for Policy and Conflict Research, described GUAM as "an instrument for implementing US policy in the former Soviet area".

Director of the Political Research Institute Sergey Markov insisted that the organization was entirely dependent on US funds. In a fuller version of his comments, broadcast in the later Vesti Plyus bulletin, Markov described GUAM as an attempt "to shut the Russian bear up in its Siberian lair and isolate Russia from Europe".

Source: BBC Monitoring Service