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7 October, 2011  ▪  Zhanna Bezpiatchuk

Last Warning From Europe

At the Eastern Partnership summit, EU leaders indicated that there is a direct link between Ukraine’s European integration prospects and the Yulia Tymoshenko case

“Europe left no one with any illusions at the Poland summit,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said, summing up the results of the second Eastern Partnership summit that took place on September 29-30. A day earlier, some people on the Ukrainian delegation seriously opined that they could persuade the EU to fix Ukraine’s EU membership prospects in the final declaration. The summit was on the level of heads of state and involved the EU members and five Eastern Partnership countries: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Belarus, the sixth member, did not officially participate.

PRESS CONTROL

Even before the summit, The Ukrainian Week was able to obtain a draft of the joint declaration prepared by the Poles. In the end, the document eventually adopted did not differ from it in any significant way. Neither mentioned any membership prospects for Ukraine. The text only contains a definition of “East European states.” And even agreeing on this definition took some fighting with Western counterparts, Polish diplomats say. The declaration also contains a passage about “supporting the European aspirations and the European choice of some partner countries.” Polish Secretary of State for European Affairs Mikołaj Dowgielewicz told journalists before the summit that when his country was only entering into dialogue with the EU about its own membership prospects, no-one was more merciful toward it or more generous in formulations. So the present diplomatic struggle for every word and every reference to the European nature of the Eastern Partnership countries is utterly important.

On the first day of the summit, Tusk and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych spoke to the press after completing bilateral Polish-Ukrainian negotiations. Initially, independent Ukrainian journalists were not allowed to be present. Whether this was by design or accident remains unknown. The Polish organizers said the press conference was only open to journalists in the president's pool. But Polish journalists simply stopped by their premier’s chancellery to pick up their IDs and no one asked them whether they belonged to Tusk’s pool. Russian journalists attended the press conference with equal ease. Finally, through their sheer persistence, Ukrainian mass media persuaded the organizers to let them listen to their own president.

The next day the Ukrainian president gave another briefing which was never announced and to which independent journalists were not invited, either. It took wonders of detective art and intuition to figure out exactly where between Hyatt Hotel and the Center of Modern Art in Warsaw, the summit’s venue, Yanukovych’s motorcade would stop. But even after they showed up at the briefing, they were not given an opportunity to ask questions for “lack of time.”

At the first press conference, Tusk began his speech in an energetic and optimistic tone. He spoke about the progress achieved in the free trade negotiations in the past six months and then moved on to the relationship between the government and the opposition in Ukraine, noting that he had conveyed his opinion and that of his EU partners on this sensitive question personally to Yanukovych. Tusk also emphasize that “these relationships will have bearing on Ukraine's European integration processes.” Yanukovych then took the floor. He also spoke about progress in the talks and the importance of European integration for enhancing the competitiveness of Ukraine’s economy. He promised: “Before we sign the Free Trade Agreement, we will naturally have to go through certain internal procedures: organize public discussions, gather together representatives of manufacturers’ associations, carry out parliamentary debates, and so on.” This raised a few eyebrows, because these procedures normally occur at an early or medium stage in negotiations rather than close to its technical completion, which is an accomplished fact as of today.

Yanukovych did not say a word about the issue which, judging from what Tusk had shared, was one of the key issues in their bilateral talks: the future of the opposition in Ukraine. Instead, as he concluded his speech, the Ukrainian president for some reason mentioned only eastern Ukraine in the context of the Eastern Partnership: “I am sure that the Eastern Partnership will also open a new way to develop our trade and economic relations and European integration processes that will take place in eastern Ukraine. They will be working to unite Ukraine’s east and Central Europe in general and create the economic space we are all seeking.” Central, southern and western Ukraine vanished into thin air in his thesis. The paper which the press secretary removed from the rostrum evidently contained a different formulation. Perhaps, instead of eastern Ukraine he wanted to say “Eastern,” or even more correctly, “Eastern European” countries. He could have meant that the rest of Ukraine is already in Central Europe. In private, people came up with multiple versions of what the Ukrainian president meant by his trail-blazing geographical formulation.

A CASE THAT IS ALWAYS WITH YOU

There was no getting away from the Tymoshenko case during the summit or the problems it has generated for Ukraine. This issue was constantly in the air. The story of the imprisoned ex-Prime Minister was shown on the big TV screen in the press center were nearly 700 journalists from all over Europe worked. It was also a key issue at the final press conference. President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso and Tusk made it clear that the EU cannot close its eyes to the Tymoshenko case when it comes to completing negotiations on the association agreement and the trade zone and signing the respective documents. Van Rompuy noted: “The problem regarding Tymoshenko was raised at a plenary session of the Eastern Partnership summit and in negotiations with me and the European commission. We expressed our concern over the trial and our discontent with the selective application of criminal law to former participants in the political process.” Barroso was even more straightforward and specific: “I can only confirm that the deadline for completing negotiations with Ukraine is set on the technical level. But we are worried about the situation surrounding Ms. Tymoshenko. We would like this issue to be solved first.” Oleh Voloshyn, head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Information Policy, reacted to the EU position by saying that Judge Rodion Kireev does not have to take into consideration the opinion of Europeans; Ukrainian legislation makes no provision for anything of the kind. It should be understood that the summit was used by the Europeans primarily as a platform for conveying to the Ukrainian leadership the things the latter wanted to hear least: a politically motivated trial cannot be evaluated by legal criteria or even viewed in the legal field. Informally, Polish politicians and experts confirmed that the political compromise that would pave the way to completing the negotiations, ratifying and signing the agreement on political association had in principle been reached: Point 3 of Article 365 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code under which Tymoshenko is being tried must be decriminalized. But one received the impression that no-one on the European side has thoroughly studied the legal details, terms and forms of punishment that will come to replace prison, i.e., the conditions of paying fines.

Two different views on contemporary Ukraine could be heard behind the scenes at the summit. There is a camp of Polish politicians and journalists that have a very pessimistic view of Ukraine. In their eyes, it is turning into another Belarus, and they do not expect any democratic steps from Yanukovych. The other camp perceives Ukraine in a more cool-headed way and notes that Yanukovych travels to the West more frequently than to Russia and wants to join the European political environment – regardless of how clumsy his attempts have been. He cannot become another Lukashenko if only because historically, Ukraine is not Belarus. The second camp seems to be getting the upper hand. At the final press conference, Tusk noted: “We are aware that Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine pinned more hopes on the summit than we could achieve today. They were about fixing an unambiguous prospect of EU membership. Today we do not have sufficient prerequisites to unambiguously state that. They are lacking from both the EU and the partner countries. But we want these prerequisites to be achieved by both sides if possible.”

The joint declaration speaks about the possible completion of negotiations with Ukraine by the end of 2011. The emphasis is on the word “possible.” It also became clear in Warsaw that in the case of Ukraine the ratification of the association agreement would definitely not be a purely technical process. Our country's reputation has suffered irreparable damage in the short-term perspective. “There are countries in the EU that are skeptical of Ukraine. In order not to fuel these skeptical attitudes, we would not want to allow the thought that the problem of Yulia Tymoshenko may be solved under a negative scenario,” Dowgielewicz said, speaking to our journalists. This is the most laconic description of the link between the association agreement ratification and the cases of ex-government officials in Ukraine.

EXAMPLE FOR THE HAUGHTY

The Belarusian issue attracted nearly as much attention from politicians and the mass media as did the Ukrainian one. What journalists loudly described as a “démarche” of the Belarusian leadership at the summit seemed very run-of-the-mill in reality. Belarusian Foreign Minister Syargei Martynau refused to participate in the forum. President Alexander Lukashenko is banned from travelling to the EU. Hence the only official that could hypothetically participate in the summit was Ambassador of Belarus to Poland Viktar Haisyonak. And indeed, he joined in the preparations and even had a falling out with the organizers when they spelled his last name incorrectly on the website. Nevertheless, several days after his complaint the mistake was still there. But the problem was more about the protocol rather than spelling. For example, the summit featured a dinner and a lunch involving heads of delegations, i.e., primarily presidents or prime ministers. The Belarusian ambassador would have to sit somewhere between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Belarusians were given an explanation that there protocol had to be followed and that an ambassador cannot represent a country at events that formally require a higher level of representation. While the official Minsk was busy taking offense, Belarusian opposition members met with Merkel and Tusk. Virtually all noted Belarusian opposition politicians were spotted in the hallways of the Polish premier’s chancellery. That is, those who are now unconditionally free or have conditional sentences: Uladzimir Nyaklyaev, Vital Rymashevski and Anatol Lyabedzka. They were in an optimistic mood and after official meetings engaged in the discussions behind the scenes. Merkel talked for an hour and a half with them. In contrast, she spoke less than the scheduled 40 minutes with Yanukovych. The EU promised to give Belarus USD 9 billion to upgrade its economy in exchange for free parliamentary elections and release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners. A separate declaration was adopted at the summit regarding the situation in Belarus. It was signed by the EU members only. Ukraine did not rush to endorse an open and straightforward assessment of Lukashenko’s regime.

Several additional opportunities were offered at the summit for countries that want to integrate into Europe. First and foremost, cooperation initiatives will be launched that, given a desire, can be turned into platforms for integrating government representatives, business circles and the public sector of the EU members and their eastern neighbors. Eastern Partnership programs will receive slightly increased financing for 2012-2013 – an additional € 150 million. The joint declaration mentions the total of € 1.9 billion for bilateral and regional programs with the EU for the same period. The participants also announced new projects, such as the East European platform for energy efficiency and environment. Moldova seems to be the most active country in its desire to take advantage of the opportunities being offered. For several years now it has been called a new favorite with the EU after the “orange dream” died in Ukraine. Georgia remains virtually the only country with a real history of successful reform in the region. Instead of the role of a leader, which would be natural for it considering its potential and possibilities, Ukraine is again forced to waste time and efforts justifying the whims of its leaders in the eyes of the world community.


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