KIEV, May 22 ‚Äď Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Monday hosted a meeting with leaders of Poland, Bulgaria, Georgia and Azerbaijan seeking to forge an alliance that would reduce dependence on Russian energy.
The meeting is the first major evidence that Central European countries have been increasingly seeking to join forces with these nations to establish an important route for alternative to Russian energy supplies.
The developments underscore concerns throughout Europe that have been triggered by a sudden shutdown of gas supplies from Russia to Ukraine in January in a move that had also affected European customers.
Yushchenko was joined by Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Azerbaijani President Ilkham Aliyev, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and Bulgarian Vice-President Angel Marin.
‚ÄúThe main issue at the talks was more active cooperation of Central European counties in the sphere of energy security,‚ÄĚ Yushchenko‚Äôs press service reported after the meeting.
Yushchenko raised the issue of setting up the energy security alliance last week while addressing a bigger group of Central European countries at a summit in Varna, Bulgaria.
Poland is known as a big supporter of the alliance, but joining of oil-rich Azerbaijan and important transit country Georgia can provide an easier access to energy resources in the Caspian Sea and the Central Asia.
Kaczynski left Kiev later on Monday citing busy domestic agenda, but the multilateral discussions over energy are expected to continue Tuesday at a summit of GUAM, a regional group that includes Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova.
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin is expected to arrive in Kiev early Tuesday.
GUAM was created almost a decade ago, but the members on Tuesday will turn it into a full-fledged international organization headquartered in Kiev.
"The GUAM organization is obtaining new forms, it is developing,‚ÄĚ Aliyev told reporters shortly after arriving at the Boryspil airport near Kiev. ‚ÄúWe hope for fruitful work and that the summit will give a new impetus to the development of our relations."
The alliance will also change name, probably to the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development - GUAM, according to a source at the foreign ministry.
The creation of GUAM has been widely supported by the U.S. and analysts see the alliance as a strategic counterbalance to Russia‚Äôs dominance in the region.
At the summit, the member states will discuss ways of moving energy resources, such as natural gas and crude oil, from the Caspian Sea to Europe apparently bypassing Russia, analysts said.
The members will also seek to establish a free trade regime between the countries to boost trade and to resolve regional ethnic conflicts in Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan. (tl/ez)