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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 22, 2003

22 July 2003, Volume 5, Number 27
POLAND REVIVES ITSELF AS A 'GREAT POWER.' Poland was included in the first wave of NATO enlargement in 1999 and will be joining the EU in 2004. These radical changes in Poland's geopolitical position are leading to a revival of Poland's quest to be recognized as an international and important player.

This has led to reviving mythology about Poland's historical role. A common theme in Central and Eastern Europe is that of "innocence," whereby states were victims of, not aggressors in, history. Similarly with Poland. "Poles are very tolerant people, respectful of other religions, without a superiority complex. Besides, we have never been a colonial power," said Colonel Roman Polko, head of the GROM elite unit whose soldiers participated in combat in Iraq.

Poland is the largest of the Central and Eastern European states that have joined NATO and are set to join the EU. "We have to play an important role," Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz was quoted by "The New York Times" as saying. He warned that "our Western European partners and friends have to realize and accept that Poland is a serious partner, and should be respected. Its arguments should be listened to."

Poland will become a center of attraction for a more pro-American orientation within the EU. U.S. President George W. Bush chose to visit Warsaw on the first leg of his European tour in late May. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told the weekly "Polityka" that he is in favor of working alongside the United States in the international arena. Poland, he added, would not support a "conception" that did not wish to cooperate with the United States. Despite EU pressure, Poland opted to purchase F-16 planes from the U.S. rather than European-made Mirage and Gripen jet fighters in a $3.5 billion deal, the largest in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989.

Poles remain skeptical of EU security guarantees. They are also wary of some EU states with a "preference for Putin's increasingly authoritarian Russia over the United States," former Polish Defense Minister Radek Sikorski wrote. Such views are held across the entire Polish political spectrum. Left-of-center "Gazeta Wyborcza" Editor in Chief Adam Michnik explained that, "Poland's future is in the EU, but its security is in the United States." Poles seek a "special relationship" with the U.S. similar to that which Washington has with Israel or Mexico.

EU enlargement will increase the difficulties within the EU of crafting a single Common and Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) from two competing trends. One trend, which is backed by states such as Poland, the United Kingdom, and Spain, sees the CFSP as complementing the trans-Atlantic relationship embodied by the U.S. and NATO. This group of countries has no problem with a unipolar world dominated by a U.S. "hyperpower." Polish Ambassador to the U.S. Przemyslaw Grudzinski told Voice of America that Poland belongs to "Western civilization" which consists of U.S. and European pillars.

Another trend is that propounded by France, Germany, and Belgium, with Russia as an external supporter, of the CFSP acting independently on behalf of "Europe" in a multipolar world. This trend is far more critical of the U.S., especially the current administration's "unilateralism."

Poland is increasingly playing a role in two areas. First, Poland has been placed in charge of one of four stabilization sectors in Iraq. Polish Ambassador to NATO Jerzy Nowak explained that this would show Poland's "leadership potential." This sector will comprise some 1,800 Ukrainian troops who, together with 2,200 Poles, will make up nearly half of the 9,000-strong peacekeeping forces in the Polish-led sector.

The Ukrainian parliament voted on 5 June to contribute the third largest military force to Iraq. The Polish sector will be led by General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz and his deputy will be the commander of the Ukrainian contingent. The Polish sector will be divided between Polish, Ukrainian, and Spanish-led forces.

Both Poland and Ukraine see this Ukrainian contribution as a way to earn U.S. support for Ukraine's inclusion in the third round of NATO enlargement in 2007. In this sense, Poland seeks to return to its historic role as a "great power," which complements its strategic support for stability on its eastern border through EU widening and further NATO enlargement.

A second Polish role is to act as a lobbyist for EU widening further east, for example to include Ukraine. As the British-based "Financial Times" reported on 10 June, bringing Poland into the EU will give it a badly needed impetus to craft an "Eastern Dimension" in an area (western CIS) which is Europe's last gray area. The "Financial Times" wrote that "Poland is right to remind the EU that it needs an Ostpolitik of positive engagement towards these countries and to underline that it could serve as the bridge."

Poland is lobbying for the EU to have an open door policy for Ukraine and Moldova similar to NATO's policy and that of the EU itself in the western Balkans. In the medium-long term, depending upon domestic developments in both states, Poland supports the EU signing association agreements with them. A step in this direction might be EU Action Plans for Ukraine and Moldova that would become Partnerships for Association by the time the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, which were signed with CIS states, expire in 2008.

Poland's entry into NATO and the EU is changing Polish perceptions of its international role by raising its profile and importance and positioning itself as a staunch ally of the U.S. The greatest challenges will be within the EU, where the entry of Poland and other Central and Eastern European states will shift the gravity of Europe eastwards.

This report was written by Dr. Taras Kuzio, resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto, and former visiting fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, Paris.

MINSK POSTPONES INTRODUCTION OF RUSSIAN RUBLE IN NONCASH TRANSACTIONS. On 1 July, Belarus and Russia prepared for another step in the economic integration of the two countries. According to a previous agreement, on that day Belarus had to introduce the Russian ruble into parallel circulation for noncash transactions.

A draft presidential decree to that effect had been approved by all the economic policy-making bodies of Belarus, including the Finance Ministry and the National Bank. The National Bank had created and tested a payment system specially designed for transactions in noncash Russian rubles in Belarus. However, on 1 July Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka failed to sign the decree. The official reason was that the presidential administration had decided to check whether the step would be in line with Belarusian legislation and whether it would not damage the country's economic security. The decree was sent to the Justice Ministry and the Security Council for their expert opinions.

The officials maintain their optimism and claim that the postponement will cause no problems to the Belarus-Russia currency integration. Pyotr Prakapovich, chairman of the National Bank of Belarus, declared at a news conference on 27 June that noncash Russian rubles will be good for Belarusian producers and will not cause any negative consequences for the Belarusian economy. The only drawback of the move, he said, is that the National Bank may have to use an extra $50 million to maintain the stability of the national currency.

But the optimism was expressed at the wrong time. Critics began to wonder whether the postponement confirmed talk of a crisis in Belarus-Russia relations, as new announcements revealing tensions over the currency union were made. Thus, the authorities declared that the parallel circulation of the Russian ruble is to be postponed at least until 1 October. And Prakapovich declared subsequently that the currency union will be finalized no sooner than in one year, adding that it is still pending on an agreement between the two presidents.

The decision to postpone the introduction of the Russian ruble in noncash transactions was considered by many observers to be a continuation of a political row between Minsk and Moscow that started in June. Then, the sides once again declared their commitment to the introduction of the single currency. This commitment was put in doubt one week later by Lukashenka, who made it conditional on Russia honoring all previous integration agreements, including the pledge to adopt a constitutional act and hold a referendum on its approval.

The idea to introduce the Russian ruble in noncash settlements in Belarus was suggested and pursued solely by the Belarusian side. The move is not quoted in the union treaty signed in 1999 and has no direct impact on the full-scale introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus as a sole legal tender for both cash and noncash transactions. The parallel circulation of the Russian ruble in Belarus would simply mean that Belarusian companies could use Russian rubles they earned from exports or purchased on the currency exchange to settle accounts without converting the currency. Under these circumstances, the decision to postpone the introduction of the noncash Russian ruble cannot be used as a tool to pressure the Kremlin into offering more acceptable conditions for the union. Indeed, this decision was met with a conspicuous indifference in Moscow. Thus, one has to wonder what was the rationale for the Belarusian National Bank's initiative to pursue the introduction of the parallel currency. The only reasonable explanation is that this was planned ahead as a decorative measure designed to keep up the public image of successful integration if the real monetary unification failed.

However, the noncash Russian ruble in Belarus may still cause some problems for the Belarusian authorities. Some observers believe that the introduction of the noncash Russian ruble was postponed due to the Belarusian authorities' concern about their ability to control financial flows inside the country. The step would make it possible for Belarusian companies not only to freely convert their earnings into Russian rubles but also to open Russian-ruble bank accounts in Russia, thus offering Belarusian businesses new opportunities to evade taxes and hide their earnings from the confiscatory measures the Belarusian authorities pursue from time to time. If this is the real reason for yet another failure in Belarusian-Russian relations, then the Belarusian government's action only confirms the suggestion of some of its opponents who maintain that no progress in integration is possible before the economic systems and policies of the two countries converge. But Lukashenka himself denies the possibility of such convergence.

This report was written by Vital Silitski, an associate professor at the Department of Economics at the European Humanities University, Minsk.

OSCE CONDEMNS LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO CURTAIL JOURNALISTIC FREEDOM. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), whose tasks include monitoring democracy-building measures throughout the former Soviet bloc, on 15 July formally protested a move by Ukrainian lawmakers to prohibit journalists from publicizing state secrets.

Ukrainian parliamentarians hope to make it an offense for journalists to obtain or publish what the media proposals term "confidential information that is the property of the state."

The proposals have raised concerns among Ukrainian journalists and democracy advocates, who say the plan fails to define clearly what constitutes such "confidential information."

They are also worried that it will be the government and state security forces -- and not the judiciary -- who will determine what represents a breach of the proposed regulations and what does not.

The proposals, which still need to be approved by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to be passed into law, give intelligence forces the power to search, investigate, and arrest journalists suspected of violating the regulations. The proposed punishment ranges anywhere from fines to imprisonment.

In a letter to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko, the OSCE's media representative, Freimut Duve, wrote, "It is ominous that your country, where the media situation has been steadily deteriorating for the past five years, should decide at this point to approve a highly restrictive law that would have a chilling effect on the work of journalists."

Alexander Ivanko, a spokesman for the OSCE, notes that many Western countries penalize officials who divulge confidential information about the state. But sanctions are not directed at journalists or other media professionals who publish that information.

Ivanko said the OSCE opposes any move to punish journalists for doing their jobs. He added that the Ukrainian proposals are worrisome both because they fail to clearly define confidentiality and because they greatly expand the powers of the intelligence services.

"Well, first of all, the new legislation allows the Ukrainian authorities to look into the sources the journalists have used, to investigate their sources. And it also allows the authorities to arrest journalists they believe have leaked classified information, which is unacceptable to this office, to the representative on the freedom of the media, because basically what you have is punishing the messenger and we believe that journalists should not be prosecuted for anything they write or investigate," Ivanko said.

Tania Katyuzhynska is a lawyer working for IREX Pro Media, a U.S.-funded organization that runs a legal defense and education program for journalists in Ukraine. She too criticized the vagueness of the proposals, and said journalists are fearful the government can label any information it chooses as "confidential."

"The thing that disturbed journalists the most are the [proposed] changes in the information law, which state that the definition of possession and use of documents containing confidential information that is state property will be decided by the cabinet of ministers," Katyuzhynska said.

That, Katyuzhynska said, runs contrary to the Ukrainian Constitution. "These changes in the law which envisage that the regulations will be decided by the cabinet of ministers contradict the Ukrainian Constitution, which is based on the precept that responsibility -- whether civil or criminal -- should be defined by law. The present changes envisage that responsibility will not be defined by law but by the cabinet of ministers, despite the fact that laws in Ukraine are formulated exclusively by parliament. This [proposed change in the law] poses a danger because journalists do not know which information might constitute confidential information that is state property, and which is forbidden to be used or disseminated," she said.

She said the proposals also contradict current laws -- including one passed earlier this year -- which allow journalists to publish state or commercial secrets if it is in the public interest.

"Whereas previously journalists were allowed to obtain information, even illegally, which was kept secret by the regime -- and, if it was necessary for the public good, distribute such information without being held to account -- then under this [proposed] law the journalist will be held responsible and the newspaper as well as the journalist will be forbidden to publish such information," Katyuzhynska said.

Katyuzhynska said journalists and pro-democracy politicians and activists are dismayed at the extensive powers the proposals give to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). The changes were advocated by Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych with the open backing of the SBU chief.

"These changes envisage that action against anyone possessing, using, and disseminating confidential information which is state property -- something not defined by law -- can be taken by the Ukrainian state security agency, which can conduct searches of people and things," Katyuzhynska said. "This has caused great concern to journalists."

Ukraine's independent journalists' union and pro-democracy activists are appealing to Kuchma to veto the proposals. But Western leaders and media organizations have repeatedly noted that Kuchma's administration is notorious for interfering with the press. Most of Ukraine's mass media is controlled by the government or businessmen close to Kuchma.

OSCE spokesman Ivanko said his group has been closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine. "We're quite pessimistic about the situation in Ukraine," he said. "We have followed it now for five years. I have personally gone to Ukraine over two dozen times to deal with their legislation, to deal with cases of harassment of journalists, and really, there is very little light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, it's a very dire situation, one of the more depressing ones in the OSCE region. So I can't be too optimistic and our office can't be too optimistic about the decisions that will be made regarding this legislation," he said.

Ivanko added that Kyiv has yet to formally respond to the OSCE's letter. "Of course we would hope that the president [Kuchma] would veto [the proposals], but to be honest, I'm not so sure this will happen," he said. Ivanko said he expects it may take up to two weeks to hear back from the Ukrainian government.

RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky wrote this report.