Uzbekistan quits anti-Russian GUUAM

Moldova, as the current chairman of GUUAM (a regional bloc established in 1997 by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, with Uzbekistan joining in 1999) received official notification yesterday from Uzbekistan that it was withdrawing from the organization, which was increasingly becoming an anti-Russian bloc, an Internet site, reports.

That Tashkent was going to change its foreign-policy priorities became clear after the April 22 GUUAM summit in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, which Uzbek officials chose not to attend. Yesterday, Uzbekistan said GUUAM was, in its view, becoming an entity built upon a very specific political motivation, which the April meeting proved.

GUUAM was initially seen as a potential alternative to the CIS. Although the organization had all but collapsed by 2000, the authorities that came to power after the revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine decided to resurrect it. In fact, these two countries and Moldova decided to bring it back to life as an anti-Russian coalition, which left Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, traditionally more friendly toward Moscow, facing a difficult choice.

Azerbaijan opted in favor of GUUAM, though this is far from a final decision. Although President Ilham Aliyev came to Chisinau, his trip was officially part of bilateral talks, which was seen as a peace gesture addressed to Russia, says.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan's withdrawal is clearly meant to please Russia and possibly gain certain political and economic preferences against the backdrop of a continual crisis in relations between Russia and most of its former CIS allies.

At the same time, "revolutionary presidents" Viktor Yushchenko and Mikhail Saakashvili might respond to the move by stepping up support for the Uzbek opposition, which has already been inspired by the "color revolution" in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and by the approaching presidential election at home next year.

The reaction of other GUUAM members to Uzbekistan's decision remains unclear. Moldovan officials have refused to comment on Uzbekistan's yesterday's move.

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