Prague, 17 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek called on Ukraine yesterday to impose full control over its eastern borders as an important step in preserving visa-free travel to Poland and easier contacts with the West.
Speaking at the Kyiv Institute of International Relations during a visit to Ukraine, Geremek said that Poland intended to resist Western pressures to introduce visas for Ukrainians. But, he said, Ukraine must take firmer steps to counter the smuggling of weapons and drugs by way of its territory from the East.
Poland has been under pressure from the European Union to tighten control over its eastern border. German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther told the Polish officials during a visit to Warsaw last month that the government should bring its visa policies in line with those of the EU. Kanther said that this was a condition of Poland's EU membership.
Warsaw has signed agreements with visa-free travel and on re-admission of illegal migrants with Kyiv and restricted entry for Russians and Belarusians whose governments failed to reach similar accords.
Ukraine has been concerned that any restriction on travel to Poland would adversely affect its economy. Poland is an important source of trade and some employment to thousands of Ukrainians. During a meeting with Geremek, Ukraine's Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko said that Kyiv might set up several free economic zones along the border with Poland to facilitate economic contacts even further.
Polish-Ukrainian bilateral trade turnover neared the equivalent of $1.7 billion last year and has grown rapidly so far this year.
Trade with Poland has become even more important for Ukraine since the onset of Russia's economic crisis. Russia is Ukraine's main trading partner (40 percent of trade turnover), and Russia's turmoil has disrupted its trade with Ukraine
Geremek emphasized in his speech that the Russia crisis provides a reminder of the need for speeding up reforms and expanding contacts with the West. He said that Poland would like to see Ukraine in all European institutions and is ready, in his words, "to support Ukraine in this difficult moment."
The economic decline in Russia is certain to affect Ukraine's economy. In addition, the continuing political uncertainty in Moscow does not augur well for many unsolved problems in the Ukraine-Russia relations.
The Russian Duma has failed to ratify a Ukraine-Russia friendship treaty recognizing Ukraine's independence. And there is still no agreement on defining borders between the two states, seven years after Ukraine's declaration of independence. Influential Russian politicians still talk about what they call the "inherent" unity of the two countries within Russia-dominated Slavic nationhood.
There's evidence that none of this has been lost on the Ukrainian leaders. During Geremek's visit, there have been frequent mentions of a strategic partnership between Ukraine and Poland. The stricter control over Ukraine's borders with Russia and Belarus appears to be an important element in future development of such a partnership.
Volodymyr Horbulin, head of Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, put it this was after talks with Geremek: "We have to stop the smuggling of drugs, stop organized crime and illegal immigration through our eastern border."
Such a program would have further important political implications in reinforcing Ukraine's national and territorial separateness from Russia.
Poland is to enter NATO next year and is currently in accession talks with the EU. Geremek said that Poland's membership in these institutions could benefit Ukraine. The currently important problem is the one of visas. And this, depends on Ukraine's moves on its eastern borders, he said.
Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski is to meet with Ukraine's President Leonid Kuchma next week (Sept. 27) in the Crimea. They are to discuss the regional repercussions of the Russia crisis and bilateral relations.