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Road map to where?

23rd December 2013
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The Polish and Russian foreign ministers agreed on a new framework for relations, though the countries are still at loggerheads over several big issues

On a short visit to Warsaw in mid-December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his host Radosław Sikorski signed a new “road map” on Polish-Russian relations.

During the meeting of the Committee on Polish-Russian Cooperation Strategy, Mr Lavrov and Mr Sikorski signed the joint declaration, which aims to aid the development of dialog and ministerial contacts until 2020. 

Sergey Lavrov with Radosław Sikorski in Warsaw
courtesy of ministry of foreign affairs/m. kosiński

Polish-Russian relations are better than what the media says they are,” Mr Sikorski told journalists after meeting his Russian counterpart. Russia is an important economic partner for Poland, he added, saying that “the presence of Russian capital in Poland is greater than we thought.”

For his part, Mr Lavrov also said that the new initiative – the first of its kind, he said – will “bring a new quality to [Polish-Russian] relations,” underlining that the two countries will also “cooperate … in order to increase efficiency and trust under the auspices of the Russia-NATO Council.”

The Ukraine question

Following a month of turmoil in Kiev after President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a trade deal with the EU, Ukraine was finally bailed out by Moscow last week to the tune of $15 billion and cheaper gas prices from 2014.

Ukraine is our strategic partner and ally in every sense of the word,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin upon signing the deal, which did not bind Kiev to join Russia’s customs union.

The move will stall Ukraine’s economy from defaulting in the short term: economists at Danske Bank said devaluation and credit default risks have decreased significantly, but only until 2015.

Nevertheless, Mr Yanukovych has had to deal with renewed calls for his resignation from opponents, who believe that the deal with Russia will keep Kiev under Moscow’s thumb.

He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence,” heavyweight boxer turned opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko said after the announcement was made, as cited by Reuters.

Meanwhile, in Warsaw Mr Sikorski said that Poland and Russia have “different philosophies” when it comes to Ukraine. In the view of the head of Polish diplomacy, Poland was prepared to back economic reforms in Ukraine, while Russia has supported the “Ukrainian economy just the way it is.”

Mr Sikorski commented on the bailout, saying that “it’s a matter between Russia and Ukraine,” although adding that Poland had also gained a lowering in gas prices this year, “so we are happy that others will also have cheaper gas.”

Speaking on Ukraine’s European aspirations, the Polish foreign minister said that he doesn’t know of any “formal facts which would prevent Ukraine from signing an association agreement with the EU.” He added that any threats of a trade boycott of Ukraine were off the cards.

No one is stopping Ukraine from developing the best economic ties possible with other countries,” he said.

Moscow still stalling on Smolensk wreckage

Another significant issue the two discussed was the return of the wreckage of the plane that crashed near Smolensk, Russia in 2010, killing President Lech Kaczyński and 95 others. Mr Sikorski has said that whenever he meets with his Russian counterpart he asks for the wreckage, which remains in Russia, to be returned.

This time was no different, nor was Mr Lavrov’s oft-repeated response: the wreckage will be returned after Russia’s investigation is over, he said.

The investigation will, I hope, end very soon,” Mr Lavrov said, adding that it should be complete by April next year, just in time for the fourth anniversary of the disaster.

The relevant Polish and Russian organizations have already been in contact to arrange the logistics,” he said.

John Beauchamp

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