Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 09.10.2017
What do Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova have in common? They all have part of their territory occupied by Russia or by a Russian proxy regime. When politicians or diplomats or bureaucrats from these four countries gather for meetings, they go by the acronym GUAM. On October 8, a meeting of GUAM foreign ministers was held in Tbilisi, Georgia. It marked the 20th anniversary of this group of nations working together in this format. The final communique by the GUAM foreign ministers talked about how their regional organization had grown in 20 years, and it contained a promise to “take active steps for strengthening peace, stability, cooperation and economic development in the region.” This is typical language for a regional organization, and might be found in a communique from the Visegrad Group, which consists of Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary. The difference is there aren’t unrecognized statelets carved out of the territory of the Visegrad Group, whereas in the GUAM members states there are.
Immediately after the collapse and dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Muscovy (which calls itself the “Russian Federation” even though it is a highly centralized unitary state) attacked Moldova. Under the guise of supporting “separatists,” the Russians carved out an unrecognized statelet called Transnistria on the east bank of the Dniester River. Russia imposed an occupation army on this eastern sliver of Moldova and called them “peacekeepers.” Although repeatedly told by the Moldovans and the international community to leave, the Russians have stubbornly kept their occupation army illegally in Moldova for over 25 years.
Also after the fall of the USSR, the Russians invaded and occupied Abkhazia in Georgia. The foreign army from Muscovy again claimed to be aiding “separatists.” Victorious in 1993, the Russians began an ethnic cleansing of Georgians from Abkhazia and have not let the people return to their homes since. Once a thriving Black Sea tourist destination, Abkhazia has descended into economic ruin under Russian occupation. Tskhinvali region in Georgia also came under pressure from the Russians and from Ossetians, and a nasty war of militias was fought there in 1991-92. Tskhinvali region completely lost its status as an integral part of Georgia when Russia invaded in 2008. The Russian occupiers of Georgia’s Tskhinvali region call their conquest “South Ossetia” and regularly move the de facto border of sign posts and barbed wire a few metres farther into Georgia. This creeping invasion is not effectively opposed by Georgia.
When the Soviet Union fell, the armed forces that were stationed at the military base in Gyumri, Armenia, went to Russia and not to Armenia. The effect of this Russian base in the heart of Armenia has been to keep the corrupt Armenian political class in Yerevan closely tied to the corrupt Russian leadership in Moscow. Russia was able to stand aside during the Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which ended with a decisive Armenian victory and a ceasefire – but no peace treaty – on 12 May 1994. Nagorno-Karabakh remains a recognized part of Azerbaijan by the international community, but it is de facto a part of Armenia. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan suffer from the endemic corruption of their political and economic leadership. Armenia has seen attempts at people-power democracy, such as “Electric Yerevan” protests in 2015, but they have been unsuccessful.
Aggressor Russia attacked Ukraine with “hybrid” warfare from the moment Ukraine resumed its independence on 24 August 1991. But the Russians did not invade Ukraine with armed forces until 20 February 2014, when Putin’s army invaded Crimea. The Russians held a fake referendum and then claimed to have ‘annexed’ Crimea to the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, Putin’s army was invading eastern Ukraine, and succeeded in occupying parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Here, the Russians claimed to be supporting “separatists.”
In each of these invasions and occupations, the goal of aggressor Russia has been to achieve a so-called “frozen conflict.” Against Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, the Russians have succeeded. Against Ukraine they have not: a hot, shooting war has been going on between the Russian armed forces and the Ukrainian armed forces for 3 years, 7 months, 19 days. That’s already 17 days longer than Russia was at war with Germany in the First World War. Europe will not be at peace until Russian influence is gone from Trans-Dniester, Abkhazia, Tskhinvali region, Nagorno-Karabakh, Crimea and Donbas.
GUAM – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova – have common cause. They all have lost control of part of their territory to Russia or to a Russian proxy. Peace, stability, cooperation and economic development are all worthy objectives for the GUAM regional group, but what the people of these countries expect of their governments is a plan for liberation or “de-occupation.” De jure sovereignty must become de facto control. The Russian invader-occupiers must leave.