GUAM: Four partners for a new energy axis

Jul 14, 2006 02:00 AM

by François Gremy

At a meeting held in Kiev on 22-23 May, heads of the GUAM member states (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova) laid the foundations of a new energy alliance: a strategic union that has the appearance of an anti-Russian front and a “bridge towards NATO and the EU”.
GUAM, an alliance set up in 1996 to reduce Russian influence in the post-Soviet era, has until now struggled to find its feet. In an effort to overcome its weakness, its four members decided to employ a more aggressive policy, stating their desire to build a “bridge towards NATO and the EU” at the meeting in Kiev. The announcement was made in the presence of representatives from the states’ traditional allies: Poland, Lithuania, and two future European Union member states, Romania and Bulgaria.

The decision comes at a crucial time as Russia is engaging in a power play with these countries. Moscow has recently imposed an embargo on Moldavian and Georgian products and, to demonstrate its regional supremacy, the Kremlin increased the price of gas imported in the four states by using its national gas company Gazprom’s monopoly.
Leaders of the GUAM states, Mikhail Saakashvili (Georgia), Victor Yushchenko (Ukraine), Ilham Aliyev (Azerbaijan) and Vladimir Voronin (Moldova), are now attempting to take on Russia in its own territory. They have not only committed to diversifying their sources of energy supply, but also to offering new transport routes for hydrocarbons from the Caspian Sea.

Both Ukraine and Georgia have repeated their firm intention to serve as transit countries for the transport of Caspian oil.
“Azerbaijan is an important oil producer and Ukraine offers unique possibilities as a transit country. Why not unite our efforts?” Yushchenko said. The Ukrainian President has also suggested that his Azerbaijani counterpart use the Odessa-Brody pipeline to transport oil from Baku. In the future, the oil pipeline could be extended from the Polish border to Lodz in central Poland, and then to the Baltic Sea port of Gdansk.

This possibility had already been mentioned by President Yushchenko in December 2004 following Ukraine's “Orange Revolution”. Known for his pro-European stance and close relations with Warsaw, the Ukrainian leader decided to change the direction of the Odessa-Brody pipeline. The pipeline was used by his predecessor Leonid Kuchma to serve the interests of the Kremlin by transporting Russian oil from Brody to Odessa.
Ilham Aliyev is in favour of Yushchenko’s proposal, as he sees it as an alternative to the recently opened Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which aims to drain 15 % of Azerbaijan’s proven reserves from the Caspian Sea. This new energy axis could also serve the interests of Kazakhstan which, with 35 bn barrels, holds 75 % of proven reserves in the Caspian Sea.

By offering the West an energy alternative to the Russian pipelines, these countries could aspire to greater consideration and involvement from NATO, as well as the European Union.
This would seem fitting at a time when European countries, with Germany leading the way, are highlighting the Southern Caucasus as a priority in their energy and foreign policies.

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