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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 1, 2003

1 July 2003, Volume 5, Number 25
UKRAINE, POLAND, AND THE EU'S WIDER EUROPE INITIATIVE. The Wider Europe initiative announced in March 2003 is a comparatively late attempt to grapple with the problem of new neighbors as the European Union enlarges in 2004. Its proposal for "Integration, not Membership" levels all four western members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) -- Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova -- to that of Russia's objective of pursuing integration, but not membership. Of the other three states, one is disinterested in the EU (Belarus) and two seek membership (Ukraine and Moldova).

The Wider Europe initiative places the western CIS with other EU neighbors in North Africa and the Middle East. Placing the western CIS together with North Africa and the Middle East "has become the document's key problem" because it "is a gross political and psychological blunder made by the authors," the Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy of Ukraine, a Kyiv-based think tank, concluded.

The Wider Europe initiative does not apply to the western Balkans and Turkey, who are offered an open-door policy of future membership. North Africa and the Middle East are not geographically European and therefore membership is not an issue (Morocco was politely told after applying that it was not "European.")

The main undecided gray area is the western CIS, which is geographically in Europe but psychologically for most Western Europeans it is outside Europe. As Britain's "The Guardian" wrote, the western CIS states may be simply "too poor, too undemocratic, or simply too different." However, the Wider Europe initiative will continue to be perceived as a double standard if it only agrees to an open-door policy for the western Balkans but not the western CIS. There is no logical explanation why an open-door policy is used for one region of geographic Europe (the western Balkans) and denied to another (the western CIS). Offering the same open-door policy to both regions would contribute to the differentiation that the European Council proclaims as central to its Wider Europe initiative. The western Balkans has never proven its higher commitment than the western CIS to common values; if anything, the opposite.

Ironically, the impression is that Ukraine is, in effect, being punished for pursuing positive and peaceful interethnic relations. The Warsaw-based Stefan Batory Foundation criticized this double standard by observing sarcastically that if Ukraine had experienced ethnic conflict, this "would most likely have pushed Ukraine up the EU's agenda." This is surely the wrong signal for the EU to send.

In recent years Poland has lobbied inside the EU (and NATO) for Ukraine. The Polish Foreign Ministry produced two papers, one in February and another in May, in support of an "Eastern Dimension" for the EU. Both were meant to contribute to discussion of the Wider Europe initiative. A major factor raised in both papers was the need to differentiate EU policy towards its eastern and southern neighbors. This was subsequently accepted in the European Council's conclusions on the Wider Europe initiative released in June. The Polish papers take the question of differentiation one step further by asking the EU to treat countries depending on "the degree of convergence of their values and foreign policy with those of the EU."

Demanding that countries move closer towards the EU's understanding of common values without an open-door policy is self-defeating. Central European states were not asked to improve their adherence to common values before the EU signed association agreements with them. The association agreements were first signed and then those countries worked towards fulfilling the Copenhagen criteria required for EU membership.

Poland therefore rightly believes that the Wider Europe initiative does not go far enough as it should leave the door open for Ukraine and Moldova. These two states should be allowed the possibility of upgrading their relationship in the long term with the EU to that of association agreements.

The May Polish paper calls for actions plans developed for Ukraine and Moldova to become "Partnerships for Association." These would prepare both states "to enter into an association or neighborhood agreement" when the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) expires in 2008. (The PCA was signed in 1994 but did not go into effect until 1998.)

The Polish papers provide concrete recommendations for the Wider Europe initiative. The postulate that EU-Ukrainian relations should be upgraded to the level of the EU-Russia. The implicit message is that the EU is giving preference to Russia for geopolitical reasons. Market economic status should be granted to Ukraine (a status granted to Russia in mid-2002), which would open the door to World Trade Organization membership. Also, targeted assistance should be provided through a "European Civil Society Neighborhood Fund" to pro-European political, economic, media, civil society, and local government forces in Ukraine.

Poland also supports the enhancing of political and security dialogue as part of the elaboration of a common European political and economic space. This, coupled with an open-door policy, would psychologically separate the common understanding of the EU from "Europe." Flexible border controls should balance concern about soft security threats with the continuation of cross-border contacts.

Military cooperation should be expanded, as agreed at the June 2002 session of the European Council in Seville, in EU-led crisis management operations. Ukraine has already assigned a military liaison officer to the EU. Joint infrastructure projects could be elaborated in energy, transportation, and communications. In May the EU, Poland, and Ukraine signed an agreement to extend the Odesa-Brody pipeline to Gdansk to deliver Azerbaijani oil to Europe. The project was backed by a business plan outlined by former British Defense Minister Malcolm Rifkind, a consultant to PricewaterhouseCoopers, which stressed its advantages.

The enlarged EU will inevitably have to tackle the issue of its eastern gray area. New EU member states, such as Poland and the three Baltic countries, are expected to lobby for an "Eastern Dimension" and the adoption of a NATO-style open-door policy for geographically European states such as Ukraine.

This report was written by Dr. Taras Kuzio, resident fellow, Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

MILLER RE-ELECTED AS SLD LEADER. The ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) held a congress in Warsaw on 29-30 June, at which Premier Leszek Miller was re-elected as SLD leader for a second four-year term. Miller, who was the only candidate for the post, received 625 votes from 777 delegates participating in the voting. Thus, last month Miller scored three remarkable political successes: Poles emphatically approved the country's EU accession in a referendum on 7-8 July (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 10 June 2003), Miller's minority cabinet won a vote of confidence in the Sejm by a safe margin on 13 June (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 17 June 2003), and Miller reinforced his leadership in the SLD. These successes seem to be even more remarkable when one takes into account that the socioeconomic situation in the country is far from being rosy (unemployment stands at 18 percent, economic growth is at a slack 1.5 percent rate), while the SLD has recently been plagued by numerous sleaze allegations, including the notorious Rywingate affair (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 14 January, 18 February, and 29 April 2003).

Miller told the congress on 29 June that the top priority of his 20-month-old cabinet will be boosting economic growth so as to make it possible for Poland to catch up economically with the EU's richest countries. He proposed a "Warsaw Strategy" of growth revival that combines tax cuts, investments in computer technology, highway construction, and fighting corruption. Miller reiterated his declaration that he is in favor of replacing the current three-tier tax system with a flat 18 percent income tax. A relevant resolution adopted by the congress the following day states that the strategy's key goals are reaching an annual GDP growth of 6 percent (5 percent in the next few years), cutting unemployment to 10 percent by 2010, building a healthy system of public finances, and introducing a simplified tax system.

Economy Minister Jerzy Hausner, who is the chief economic strategist in Miller's cabinet, told the congress on 30 June that the government will pursue rapid economic growth by somewhat relaxing budget discipline. Hausner said the budget deficit will rise "temporarily" above this year's planned 4 percent in the next two years to allow the government to pay for EU entry costs. Hausner backed Miller's idea of introducing a flat-rate income tax but gave no details or time frames.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former party comrade of Miller, addressed the congress on 30 June, appealing to SLD activists for "more vision and less television" in their deeds. "There need to be more values, more responsibility, more consistency, and less public-relation techniques [in your efforts]," Kwasniewski stressed. He criticized the SLD for its style of government, saying that "cronyism has become the second-largest plague after corruption" in Poland. On the whole, however, Kwasniewski struck a conciliatory note and pledged to assist the SLD in implementing its program. "I want to help you and I believe that you will help me [and that] we will be able to close [our terms in power] with the assertion that Poland is developing, Poland is safer, and there is more justice in Poland," he said.

The congress re-elected Marek Dyduch as SLD secretary and elected five deputy heads of the party: Jozef Oleksy, Jerzy Szmajdzinski, Krzysztof Janik, Andrzej Celinski, and Aleksandra Jakubowska. The congress also elected the SLD's National Council consisting of "nearly 400 people," PAP reported. The National Council, which includes all SLD parliamentarians (Sejm deputies and senators), reportedly has no young activists. "It is sad that in such a numerous National Council of the 150,000-strong party there is no place for 20 young people who could offer new points of view, some words of criticism, and innovation that is indispensable," SLD lawmaker Sylwia Pusz told PAP. "There was little chance to push young activists [into the National Council]," Dyduch commented, adding that the average age of some 50 percent of delegates to the congress was between 50 and 60. (Jan Maksymiuk)

MARCHUK BECOMES DEFENSE MINISTER. The ouster of Ukrainian Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko last week was not unexpected. President Leonid Kuchma had upbraided him several times recently for failing to begin reforms to modernize the country's huge but inefficient army.

Kuchma had also blamed Shkidchenko for what he said was evidence of widespread corruption seen during a surprise visit to Ukrainian military units in Crimea. There also has been speculation that Shkidchenko was removed because his political enemies thought he was too pro-Western.

Kuchma accepted Shkidchenko's resignation and on 25 June appointed the secretary of the National Defense and Security Council, Yevhen Marchuk, as Ukraine's new defense minister.

Leonid Polyakov is the military programs director at the independent Razumkov Center think tank in Kyiv. Polyakov believes Shkidchenko did not have -- or chose not to exercise -- the political skills to defend himself. "General Shkidchenko stood out by his professionalism and decency," Polyakov told RFE/RL. "Therefore, I think that the main reason for the changes is political. I'm not sure about the exact reason for the change, but it seemed inevitable it would happen sooner or later because it was difficult for a military personage like Shkidchenko to remain in the political role of minister of defense. He tried to avoid politics, but the defense minister is a political role and sooner or later he was going to be sacrificed."

Kuchma says Marchuk's tasks are to bring the army under civilian control and to transform Europe's second-largest military force -- after Germany -- into a much smaller and more modern volunteer force. Presently, the Ukrainian Army is made up mainly of poorly motivated and badly paid conscripts. They live in shoddy barracks where they are often bullied and where even proper food is lacking.

Politicians and soldiers agree the Ukrainian military is grossly under-funded, which has lead to poor training and sloppy standards blamed for a string of fatal accidents in recent years. These accidents include a stray missile that exploded in an apartment block in the capital, and another missile error that destroyed a Russian civilian airliner, killing 78 people. Last year, 80 spectators died when a military plane crashed at an air show in the western city of Lviv.

In contrast to his predecessor, the man now responsible for restoring the military's reputation and introducing radical reforms has proven himself to be -- since Ukraine's independence in 1991 -- one of the country's most ambitious and skilful politicians.

The 62-year-old Marchuk has displayed not only an ability to adapt to different circumstances but extensive political survival skills, as well. Marchuk spent most of his career working for the Soviet secret police, the KGB, which he joined in 1963 after graduating from a pedagogical institute. In 1990, he became first deputy chairman of the KGB in Ukraine. From November 1991 to July 1994, Marchuk worked as the head of the newly formed Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), where he achieved the rank of general.

But the world of politics beckoned in 1994. He served as prime minister from June 1995 to May 1996, when he was fired by Kuchma.

Marchuk ran for president against Kuchma in 1999. On the eve of the first round of elections, he spoke on RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, condemning Kuchma and warning of disaster for Ukraine if Kuchma won. But after Marchuk failed to gain enough votes to proceed into the second round, he switched his support to Kuchma, who was re-elected. Kuchma appointed Marchuk as secretary of the National Defense and Security Council in November 1999.

Polyakov from the Razumkov think tank said that, at first glance, Marchuk's background suits his new job. "Mister Marchuk, General Marchuk, is an experienced and intelligent man. In principle, if other factors didn't intervene, he'd be a good candidate for the post of defense minister," he said.

But Polyakov said Marchuk is not affiliated with any powerful political grouping in parliament and that without political support, he will be unable to get the large financial resources needed to bring about significant reforms in the in the army. Polyakov said this lack of support in parliament may doom Marchuk.

"They [parliament] determine financial questions and enact the relevant legislation, and if there isn't going to be support from parliament, then what happened earlier -- when the president announced reform programs which were not backed by financial resources -- will continue. And if that continues, it will be difficult to introduce any radical changes. There might be some changes that don't require much cash, but it's impossible to build a modern army without big investments," Polyakov said.

But Marchuk is not without political clout. He controls one of Ukraine's largest newspapers, "Den," and is rumored to have influence over many leading politicians because of what he knows about them from intelligence files.

Marchuk has been one of the main proponents of Ukraine's entry into NATO since Kuchma last year announced his country's intention to join the military alliance. Marchuk's appointment has been welcomed by NATO, where he is known as an erudite and well-informed member of Ukraine's political elite. However, Ukraine has not gotten far in its efforts to join NATO, due mainly to Kuchma's battles against allegations of corruption, abuse of human rights and an offer to sell weapons to Saddam Hussein.

Polyakov said other issues also make Ukraine unattractive to NATO at the moment. "It's not just a question of individuals or the issue of selling weapons to Iraq. The problem is that it's impossible to separate the military sphere from the political and economic aspects of entry into NATO because political and economic issues are the most important in this respect. And here [in Ukraine], we have dishonest elections, the abuse of power by officials and problems in the justice and law enforcement systems. So I'd say that although it's a military alliance, when NATO sees how we behave, especially in the military sphere, then there obviously isn't much trust toward such a country," he said.

Marchuk, fluent in English and German, seems at ease when dealing with international issues and has demonstrated that he is realistic about Ukraine's chances of joining NATO. He says it will take at least eight to 10 years and that Ukraine must double the amount it spends on the military before entry can conceivably occur.

RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky wrote this report.

"I have decided to make you a state-run enterprise, so get ready for this. I'm going to take from you all those shares that you've given to no one knows whom. We'll see, perhaps we will leave a 12 percent stake to the working collective at this stage, or perhaps we will take it back to the state as well, because you have had no benefits from it anyway.... Some of you probably still have those shares, those pieces of paper. But you are not receiving any dividends. [And a speculator] may come and give you a bottle of vodka for them, or two bottles if your enterprise starts to work well. People may sell those shares, and the 12 percent stake may become the possession of some Russian or foreign man." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 25 June, explaining to workers of a cellulose and paper mill in Svetlahorsk, southeastern Belarus, how and why he will renationalize their enterprise; quoted by Belarusian Television.