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Ukraine stalemate tops political agenda

9th December 2013
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With people still protesting on the streets of Kiev over an abandoned plan to sign a free trade agreement with the EU, politicians in Poland and the EU mull the next step

Following the failure of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to sign the Association Agreement with the EU at a summit in Vilnius, the people of Ukraine – hundreds of thousands of them – took to the streets of their capital to voice their frustration, despite a city-wide decree that has outlawed protests in Kiev until January 7. The protests, dubbed the “Euromaidan,” are the biggest since the Orange Revolution in 2004. 

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets of Kiev to protest their government's failure to sign the Assocation Agreement with the EU
Courtesy of Flickr/Nessa Gnatoush

The Vilnius summit was nevertheless hailed by the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy as a “historic victory.” Yes, the EU did initial agreements with Georgia and Moldova, but Ukraine – the jewel in the crown if indeed a political victory were to have been truly claimed – remained on the sidelines, with just a few awkward pictures of Mr Yanukovych shaking hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel coming down the wires.

Poland exporting solidarity

Poland has always been proud of its historical legacy of toppling communism, and always seems keen to export its notions of solidarity.

On a freezing Sunday afternoon, two Polish politicians – Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jarosław Kaczyński and Civic Platform (PO) MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament Jacek Protasiewicz – were shuttled in to Kiev to give the raucous crowd a morale booster.

Echoing his twin brother Lech, who as president went to support the Georgians in Tbilisi after Russia annexed part of the country’s territory in 2008, Jarosław Kaczyński stood up in front of an enthused crowd and said “it is not just you who need Europe or the European Union, but it is Europe and the EU that need you.” For his part, Mr Protasiewicz gave Ukrainians the full support of the European Parliament.

The joint – and what seemed to be amicable – appearance of a leading PO politician and the leader of the opposition party is something that Polish voters may not have witnessed since the Smolensk tragedy in 2010 drove a deeper wedge between the country’s two largest parties. However, differences in opinion soon started to appear.

After the initial visit on December 1, a flurry of Polish MPs decided to jump on the bandwagon and make their way over to Kiev, including a number of PO members. In Kiev, the leader of the liberal pro-EU party Your Move, Janusz Palikot, even hinted that a change of prime minister in Ukraine may be on the cards.

But for all the talk in Ukraine between Poland’s politicians and Ukrainian MPs and NGOs, not much could be done, as Mr Yanukovych skipped town for meetings in China to sign trade deals worth $8 billion, a far cry from Brussels’ relatively meager offer of E600 million, which Mr Yanukovych called “humiliating” before the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.

Political unity short-lived

Meanwhile, President Bronisław Komorowski convened a security council meeting on Monday, December 2 to discuss what to do next with regards to Ukraine. Mr Kaczyński didn’t turn up, instead sending MEP Ryszard Czarnecki, although he was denied access to the meeting.

The PiS Deputy Leader, Adam Lipiński met the president on Thursday, but kept his lips sealed as to the details of the tête-à-tête. Mr Lipiński did give away the fact that there are differences between PiS’s and President Komorowski’s views of eastern foreign policy, however.

In an interview with Polish Radio at the end of last week, Tomasz Nałęcz, a presidential advisor, rebuffed criticism from PiS, saying that Mr Komorowski has played an active part in the Ukrainian dialogue, while Mr Kaczyński has remained passive in his rhetoric.

Mr Kaczyński did nothing over the last few years, just a few blunders, including the very unfortunate suggestion of withdrawing ... Ukraine’s participation in the Euro 2012 soccer tournament,” Mr Nałęcz said.

Ukraine still on European track?

Towards the end of last week, the Polish and Swedish heads of diplomacy, Radosław Sikorski and Carl Bildt respectively, were in Kiev for the OSCE Ministerial Council.

As Poland and Sweden co-initiated the EU’s Eastern Partnership program, it seemed only logical that they would hold a joint meeting with Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov.

Ukraine has not and will not veer from its European path,” Mr Azarov said, as cited by Messrs Sikorski and Bildt. Mr Sikorski added that “We are offering Ukrainian authorities a chance to lessen the political cost of implementing reforms,” although he didn’t reveal any further details.

However, with the EU-Ukraine line being placed on hold, MEPs are now set to debate the very future of the Eastern Partnership, with a vote set for the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg this week. Maybe Mr Van Rompuy was too quick to hail a victory in Vilnius?

John Beauchamp

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