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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » October 24, 2002
Ukraine Conference
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Ukraine in Europe
October 24, 2002   
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A conference took place in Warsaw Oct. 15-16 with 100 representatives of the social and political communities of Ukraine and Poland. Among Ukrainian politicians and political activists were representatives of the government as well as the opposition.

Among government representatives were Victor Medvedchuk, the administration chief of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Yevhen Marchuk, secretary of the National Council of Safety and Defense of Ukraine. Among opposition politicians were Victor Yushchenko, the former prime minister, Olexandr Moroz, leader of Ukraine's Socialist party, and Boris Tarasyuk, former minister of foreign affairs in the Yushchenko government.

The conference, organized by the Know How Foundation, was conducted under the patronage of Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski. Prime Minister Leszek Miller and Minister of Foreign Affairs Władysław Cimoszewicz also participated.

The Warsaw meeting was an opportunity to discuss Ukraine's role in Europe after the expansion of NATO to the north and east, as well as following the expected expansion of the EU to include 10 countries of Central Europe. High-level politicians from the EU, such as the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, were also present.

The presence of the latter was motivated by the desire to share Scandinavian experiences in building the northern area of the European Union. The challenge to build an Eastern European EU stands before both Poland and Ukraine. This is true for Poland, soon to become a new member of the EU, as well as for Ukraine, a country which will border the organization. Kwaśniewski addressed this issue when he said: "This conference may be of significant help in defining future relations between European and Ukrainian structures."

Commentary prior to the conference was concerned with speculation regarding the initiation of dialogue in Warsaw between the Ukrainian government and the opposition. In light of the current political situation in Ukraine, a dialogue seems desirable. Minister Marek Siwiec, chief of the Polish National Security Office, commented before the conference: "If someone believes that the problems or conflicts which take place in a democratic country can be solved outside the borders of that country, then that person is mistaken." Despite official statements that the internal dialogue in Ukraine was not the most important issue at hand during the meeting, it is clear that this process was begun in Warsaw, although it is hard to say whether it will be continued in Ukraine.

The statements of Ukrainian politicians representing both the government and the opposition left no room for doubt: Ukraine's choice is a pro-European one. Ukraine desires to move in the direction of the Euro-Atlantic organizations. Whether the consequences of this choice are completely clear for the political elite of contemporary Ukraine is yet another question. Observers of the Ukrainian political scene often notice that these sorts of declarations are merely verbal in nature.

At the conference in Warsaw, Ukrainian politicians received a clear message from representatives of the EU: the Union is above all a community of values: democratic and transparent public procedures, the elimination of corruption, freedom of the press, the rejection of censorship, and transparent politics in the trade of weapons. This last declaration sounded particularly loud in Warsaw in the context of American accusations of Ukraine's violation of the embargo on sales of weapons to Iraq, as well as European doubts regarding Ukrainian weapons sales to Macedonia. Addressing the issue of possible weapons sales to Macedonia, Persson stated: "We would never expect and never accept that our friends would sell arms to that kind of country."

"We're talking now about the standards which are necessary to be part of the European family," concluded Solana. "Ukraine has to have the structures that will allow it to get as close as possible to the European Union." The Polish president spoke in a similar tone when he said that Ukraine should not trifle with European values.

The Warsaw conference is difficult to chalk up as either a success or a failure. The discussions conducted between Ukrainian and Polish politicians, as well as EU representatives, are only the beginning of a debate on the Ukraine's relationship with an expanded EU and NATO.

Observers at the conference appreciated the Ukrainian declaration that the dialog initiated in Warsaw would be continued in Ukraine. They were disappointed, however, by the absence of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh. Kuchma did arrive in Warsaw after the conclusion of the conference but only in order to meet with Kwaśniewski and Solana.

"I have always been, and continue to be, for constant dialogue with all the political forces in Ukraine, including the opposition," claimed Kuchma to the press. The next weeks will show to what degree that declaration will be realized and whether the discussions, not only between the Ukrainian government and opposition groups, but regarding the country's place in Europe, will be continued. If they do, the goal of the Warsaw meeting will have been achieved.
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