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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » May 20, 2009
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
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Poland Touts Eastern Policy Success
May 20, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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The government says it has scored an important foreign policy success with the visit of Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski to Moscow and a Prague summit at which the European Union launched an Eastern Partnership program conceived by Poland and Sweden.

"We have achieved what we intended concerning the Eastern Partnership," Prime Minister Donald Tusk said May 8.

The European Union and six former Soviet republics-Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus-agreed May 7 in Prague on the Eastern Partnership Initiative, designed to forge closer ties. The main goal of the partnership is to accelerate political and economic integration, including establishing free-trade zones, between the EU and the former Soviet nations.

"The partnership is not meant as a kind of special assistance to the governments of the participating countries," Tusk said. "It is supposed to make life easier for people living beyond Poland's and Europe's eastern border and bring them closer to Europe and its standards."

At a summit in March, the EU decided to set aside an additional 600 million euros for the Eastern Partnership Initiative up to the end of 2013. Earlier, when negotiating the EU budget for 2007-2013, the EU earmarked 12 billion euros for cooperation with its neighbors. Of this amount, 494 million euros was set aside for Ukraine up to 2010.

"This is a day of Polish success in the EU, a day when the whole EU adopted a Polish initiative for the first time," Sikorski said after the Prague summit. "What was merely an idea a year ago... is now an official plan of the whole EU and the six partner nations."

The day before the Prague summit, at the close of his Moscow visit, Sikorski reassured his Russian hosts that the Eastern Partnership was not directed against Russia, nor was it an attempt to build an anti-Russian alliance in the former Soviet republics. "It is a program to modernize the EU's neighbors," Sikorski told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

"And since Russia is also undergoing modernization, there is no contradiction here."

Lavrov accepted the assurances. "The response about the Eastern Partnership we have received from our Polish colleagues, from Minister Sikorski, satisfies us," he said, noting he was told that Poland wants the partnership program to develop "in total harmony and agreement with Russia."

Sikorski said Russia has been given the option of participating in the European Neighborhood Policy, of which the Eastern Partnership is a part. "We also invite Russia, or at least the Kaliningrad District, to some of the Eastern Partnership programs," Sikorski added.

Apart from the Eastern Partnership Initiative, Sikorski's two-day visit to Moscow also focused on analyzing the state of Polish-Russian relations and preparing for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to Poland-not yet confirmed by the Russian side-to attend commemorations in September of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.

"If the visit takes place, we would recognize that the process of normalizing Polish-Russian relations has been completed and that Poland has joined actively and creatively in the process of building an EU and bilateral partnership with Russia," Sikorski said in Moscow.

New Polish-Russian agreements on other issues that were discussed in Moscow may be signed soon. Among these is the problem of navigation through the Vistula Lagoon. The lagoon is split between Poland and Russia's Kaliningrad District. Russia, which has a large naval base in Baltiysk, has periodically blocked passage for Polish ships through the Strait of Baltiysk, which links the lagoon and the Baltic Sea. Poland has even considered digging a canal across the Vistula Spit to free itself of dependence on Russia and revive trading traffic through its port of Elbl±g.

Asked whether relations between Warsaw and Moscow have been unfrozen, Sikorski sidestepped a direct answer, saying: "We simply have normal relations now between one of the six largest EU nations and a large country, that is, Russia."

Lavrov said the two sides had emphasized the need to meet each other halfway and to implement agreements reached during Tusk's visit to Moscow in February 2008 and his meeting with Putin during the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Sikorski also said a bilateral agreement on fighting organized crime was almost ready. He added Poland would support cooperation between the two countries' ministries of culture and science and expressed hope that an exchange program would be launched for Polish and Russian youth. Sikorski also said it would be good if the Polish-Russian commission for school textbooks resumed its work.

Lavrov said Russian initiatives concerning energy security in Europe were one of the topics he discussed with Sikorski.
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