GUAM Police Plan To Replace Russian Peacekeepers

MOSCOW, Russia -- The foreign ministers of the GUAM nations – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova – have agreed to set up their own police force that is to replace the Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zones of the CIS.

Russian peacekeeper in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia

Simultaneously, the pro-Western GUAM states are lobbying the United Nations to pass an anti-Russian resolution. Kommersant has learned that the no-holds-barred offensive against Russia is related to worries that Russia is about to recognize the breakaway republics.

Military Council

The meeting of the GUAM foreign ministers took place Monday in New York during the 61st General Assembly. They met to discuss the progress of settlement of the frozen conflicts in the CIS. It is notable that, although Russia is involved in the Abkhazian, South Ossetian, Nagorny Karabakh and Transdniestrian conflicts as a guarantor of peace, no Russian representatives were invited to the meeting. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer was present, however.

After a short consultation under the observation of Kramer, the ministers unanimously decided that police peacekeeping forces from the GUAM states should replace the Russian peacekeepers in conflict zones on the territories of Georgia and Moldova. In particular, as the Georgian foreign minister elucidated, an agreement was reached that GUAM peacekeepers should participate in peacekeeping operations in the zones of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian conflicts.

Implementing the agreement has been postponed indefinitely, however. The decision to establish GUAM peacekeeping forces was made only in May of this year and the quartet of countries has yet to form the joint police force.

The ministers also conciliated a strategic plan for joint activities “to expand international support in issues of peaceful settlement of drawn-out conflicts on the territories of GUAM countries.”

The main goal of the plan was for a resolution to be passed at the current General Assembly session on the frozen conflicts. “The issue of the conflicts was placed on the agenda of the session and it is logical that some document reflecting the position of the international community would be passed after the discussion,” Moldovan Minister of Reintegration Vasile Sova told Kommersant. “Enormous efforts are now being made to get the settlement process moving. International support is needed for it too.”

GUAM's desire to rid itself of Russian peacekeepers and set a firm course toward the internationalization of the conflict regions means that the group is extremely dissatisfied with Russia's behavior in settling the crises. The decision of the GUAM foreign ministers in New York is one more step to reduce Moscow's role as much as possible in the negotiations processes of conflict settlement in those countries.

Coming on Strong

It is no coincidence that the GUAM decision has been times to the UN General Assembly session. The current session has great meaning for that quartet of countries. GUAM put up a unified front against Russia even before the session began and has already scored important victories. In spite of Russia's active resistance, GUAM lobbied successfully to have the issue of the frozen conflicts placed on the session's agenda.

The UN general committee first refused Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova's request to place the issue on the agenda. However, once they received the support of the United States and Great Britain, GUAM got the decision it wanted by one vote. The results of the vote show the tension of the fight.

Sixteen countries supported the GUAM proposal, 15 opposed, 65 abstained and about 100 were simply absent from the voting.

Novruz Mamedov, head of international relations for the Azerbaijani presidential administration, told about the diplomatic skirmishes behind the scenes at The UN. “First Russian and Armenia had the issue rejected,” he recalled. “But finally the bureau couldn't help paying attention to the insistence and pressure from the GUAM countries, and then the issue was put to a vote again… We regret that Russia has again taken such a position. It makes us think certain things.”

The placement of the issue of the conflicts on the UN session agenda was Russia's first defeat, since it was an acknowledgment of the ineffectiveness of the Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zones.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili continued the offensive against Moscow. Inspired by a NATO decision to begin an “intensive dialog” with Tbilisi, he accused Russia of the “occupation” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the podium of the UN. “Those regions,” he said, “were annexed by our neighbor to the north, Russia, which supports their inclusion as part of it, intentionally making a mass issuance of Russian passports in violation of international law…

The residents of the disputed regions live under the bandit occupation of Russia. I doubt that anyone in this auditorium would tolerate such interference on their land.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk could not resist a jab of his own against Russia. “Ukraine will reject any attempt to draw parallels between the problem of Kosovo and the unsettled conflicts on the territory of the GUAM countries,” he said, joining the polemic against Moscow, which insists that, if Kosovo is given independence, the regional conflicts in the CIS should be settled the same way.

Preemptive Strike

Moscow, having suffered a number of delicate setbacks, prefers to pretend that GUAM's successes do not upset it. Commenting on the inclusion of the frozen conflicts in the former USSR on the agenda of the 61st General Assembly session, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that it was not evidence of the UN's interest in the problem, since on 16 states voted for it, while the rest were either against it or abstaining.

The meeting of the GUAM foreign ministers did not go uncommented on either. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov said of it that “Georgia is trying to take advantage of the military potential of GUAM to replace Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The presence of additional forces on the territory of Georgia allows it to flex its muscles anytime it feels like it, as it did recently in the Kodor Gorge, and it gives it the opportunity to take advantage of them as an additional card to play in the standoff with Sukhumi and Tskhinvali.”

Ivanov made it clear that they are ready for that in Moscow. “Russia supports a settlement of the existing conflicts only through political methods and it will find adequate measures to prevent the development of a situation in that scenario,” he warned.

Moscow's patronage of the unrecognized republics is the cause of the GUAM countries aggressive rhetoric. Moldova and Georgia, which are dealing with the separatism, are seriously concerned that Russia will be able to gain recognition for the regions that reject them.

A referendum has already been held in Transdniestria in which 97 percent of the residents voted for independence and subsequent unification with Russia. South Ossetia will hold an analogical plebiscite in November. A source in the Moldovan government admitted to Kommersant that the current GUAM offensive could be considered a preemptive strike.

There have been fears in Chisinau recently that Moscow will begin procedures to recognize Transdniestria based on the results of the referendum. “Moscow's strategic goal,” the source said, “is to change the political course of Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia. They want those countries to coordinate all of their foreign policy steps with Russia.

That is how the Kremlin defines its influence in the former Soviet Union. They need to direct a friendly chorus of voices in the post-Soviet republics and force them to share their point of view. The frozen conflicts are an influence factor.

Source: Kommersant