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Analysis From Washington -- Redrawing European Geopolitics

  • Paul Goble

Washington, June 26 (RFE/RL) -- On a day filled with events affecting East European security, the most important development took place in Warsaw.

There, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a joint declaration on regional security, pledging their governments to support each other as they seek to integrate into the political, economic and security institutions of Europe.

Moreover, in a ringing rejection of Moscow's claim of a droit de regard in the region, the two presidents declared that "every state has the right to join international political, economic and defense structures" and that no country has the right to veto what the two presidents called the "sovereign decision" of each country.

And the declaration continues with the assertion that "the very existence of Ukraine as an independent country helps to cement the independence of Poland." To that end, the two presidents called for an intensification of the NATO Partnership for Peace Program and for cooperation between Warsaw and Kyiv on security questions.

Such a declaration is remarkable for three reasons:

First, it is a direct challenge to Moscow's claims and to the tendency of many in the West to be more concerned about relations with Russia than with the security of Eastern Europe. Indeed, four years ago, Poland and Ukraine attempted to issue a similar statement and were dissuaded from doing so by the West largely out of the latter's concerns that such an accord would anger Moscow.

Second, it suggests that the countries of the region are now sufficiently worried about their own security in the face of Russian rhetoric and what they perceive as Western neglect that they are willing to strike out on their own.

While it is unlikely that these countries or their neighbors in the zone of relatively weak states between Berlin and Moscow and the Baltic and the Black Sea could form any more effective security alliance than they have in the past, at least the Poles and the Ukrainians appear to have concluded that such an arrangement must be attempted in the absence of any other.

And third, this declaration dramatically raises the stakes for NATO enlargement toward the East. That is because if, as many now expect, Poland is taken in as a member, Warsaw now has made a commitment to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that few in the West take seriously as a possible future member of the alliance.

In addition, by signing this declaration, the Poles have indicated that they see their security as dependent on what happens in Ukraine and that they are prepared to support ultimate Ukrainian membership. For many in Moscow, that position will only reinforce Russian opposition to NATO expansion even to include Poland, a step even Yeltsin continues to oppose.

And it makes it more likely that the Russians will step up their pressure on Belarus in the first instance and possibly on the Baltics and Ukraine itself to counter this new move.

All three of these factors will certainly affect Western decision-making on NATO, and thus the Warsaw declaration may ultimately prove counterproductive at least to Polish interests.

But one thing is certain: Tuesday's other events affecting European security -- U.S. President Bill Clinton's meeting with the three Baltic presidents, Russian President Boris Yeltsin's declaration about Moscow's intentions for the region, and the first meeting of the Russian-Belarusian parliamentary assembly -- will receive more media attention. But non of them is likely to have nearly as great an impact as the Warsaw declaration.