The Turkish government is seeking to revive GUAM in order to form an alliance of states against Russia broader than the pan-Turkic groupings it had promoted in the past, Aleksey Fenenko says; but he adds that Ankara faces real difficulties in doing so and that Moscow has the means to block any such geopolitical effort.
In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” the instructor on world politics at Moscow State University says that “Turkish diplomacy is trying to revive a block like GU(U)AM” consisting of “countries which have difficulties with Russia” and which thus could help Ankara in its conflict with Moscow.
GUAM was formed by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Uzbekistan later joined and left the organization: hence, its acronym. Like Latvia, Türkiye already has observer status in the group and like its members it wants to make the organization into “an alternative” to the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
The idea of creating such a grouping of states arose in the mid-1990s. In June 1996, Moldova and Georgia issued a joint statement. And in October 1997, they were joined by Azerbaijan and Ukraine in calling for a system of mutual consultations in order to “’counter Russian hegemony.’” That became GUAM at a meeting in Yalta on July 7, 2001.
But despite the aspirations of its organizers, the group has not become a truly effective grouping of states, Fenenko says. They are divided on many issues, and Uzbekistan has pointed to its dissolution by leaving as a result of differences with the others over relations with the United States.
In 2005-2007, the Moscow scholar continues, Poland attempted to promote GUAM as a counterweight to Moscow and to attract to its membership Lithuania and Romania. Little came of that besides the addition of Latvia and Türkiye as observers. Now, instead of Poland, Türkiye is seeking to use GUAM for its own purposes, Fenenko writes.
“The idea of the leadership of Türkiye in a sub-bloc alternative to Russia is by itself not new,” he continues. In October 1992, Ankara hosted the presidents of the Turkic countries that emerged following the collapse of the USSR; and they signed a declaration on mutual cooperation. A year later, they signed another about the unity of Turkic peoples.
But again and despite Ankara’s hopes, this grouping was riven by differences and did not take off, Fenenko says. What is new today is that “this time, Turkish diplomacy is seeking to revive a partnership … not simply with Turkic countries but with countries which have claims against Russia (Georgia and Ukraine) or fear Russia’s ties with its opponents (Azerbaijan).” He adds that “theoretically,” Moldova and Romania might fit into such an arrangement.
However, he writes, in his view, “the format of ‘a Turkish GUAM’ today is not very realistic.” What Ankara tried to do in the 1990s rested on pan-Turkist feelings, but even they, Fenenko argues, “are not prepared to completely re-orient themselves to Ankara given the weak Turkish military ‘umbrella.’”
He gives three additional reasons for his skepticism:
- First, Georgia has “traditional concerns” about territorial disputes with Türkiye.
- Second, Azerbaijan is always worried that if it moves too close to Türkiye, Moscow will expand its support for Armenia.
- And third, Türkiye and Ukraine have very difference visions about the ultimate future of Crimea.
But having said all that, Fenenko is clearly concerned that something may come of this effort anyway. Russia should not “react inertly to the project of a renewed GUAM. Sometimes, the consolidation against someone (in this case, Russia) can force people to forget mutual resentments despite the consequences.”
“The task of Russia,” he concludes, “is to carefully monitor the corresponding processes and maintain dialogue with the states of the Trans-Caucasus.” Moscow has, Fenenko points out, “20 years of experience” in opposing GUAM.