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4 Leaders Try to Offset Russia's Clout

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Leaders of four former Soviet republics on Tuesday discussed ways to counterbalance Russia's wide influence in the Caspian and Black Sea basins at a summit of their regional grouping.

The summit is the first for the organization, called GUAM, the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, since its four member countries -- Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova -- agreed last year to deepen ties and cooperation.

The summit's host, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, and other leaders spoke in support of extending the Odessa-Brody crude oil pipeline through Ukraine to bring Caspian Sea oil to a refinery in Plock, Poland, and on to the Baltic Sea port of Gdansk.

"Our countries are offering their political support to this project," Aliyev said.

The pipeline would provide another outlet for European-bound Caspian Sea oil to bypass Russia. Ukraine built the 667-kilometer pipeline in 2001, but it has remained largely idle because of bickering about whether to accept oil from Russia or to pump oil from Caspian Sea countries northward to Poland and on to the rest of Europe.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who attended the summit, emphasized that the Odessa-Brody pipeline could help avoid "energy blackmail" -- an apparent reference to Russia.

Officials from GUAM member states have denied that the organization was anti-Russian, but three of the four members have had serious trade or other disputes with Moscow, and Russia is deeply enmeshed in unresolved separatist conflicts in Georgia and Moldova.

Aliyev mentioned the need to solve the "frozen conflicts" in separatist regions, adding that GUAM could help achieve a settlement.

"Our economic ties, a strong political dialogue and joint projects are bringing us closer together," Aliyev said at the summit.

(The Moscow Times 20.vi.07)

 
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