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The Warsaw Voice » From the News Editor » October 27, 2011
From the News Editor
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A Difficult Partnership
October 27, 2011   
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The Eastern Partnership, a Polish and Swedish initiative launched in 2009 and aimed at gradually bringing six post-Soviet republics—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine—closer to the European Union is a great but extremely difficult idea. This was amply illustrated by the Partnership’s second summit in Warsaw in late September. The meeting produced meager results despite the optimism officially voiced by EU politicians.

The summit coincided with the final stage of a trial in Kiev of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister of Ukraine and one of the staunchest opponents of the country’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. The latter took part in the Warsaw summit, and EU officials tried to get him to promise that Tymoshenko will not end up spending several years in prison. The political context of the accusations against Tymoshenko—involving financial losses to which she allegedly exposed the state while negotiating contracts for the delivery of Russian gas several years ago—is evident. But Yanukovych would not be pinned down, and just over a week after the summit ended Tymoshenko was handed a sentence of seven years behind bars plus an astronomical fine. It is unclear if she will go to prison or whether she will be spectacularly pardoned. One way or the other a show trial was staged in the courtroom that was a far cry from EU standards. EU officials expressed their “serious concern” and that was about all they could do.

The state of the EU’s relations with Belarus is even worse. Here, an open conflict took place at the summit. Since President Alexander Lukashenko is persona non grata in the EU, he was not invited to Warsaw. Belarus was to be represented first by its foreign minister, then by its ambassador to Poland, but neither showed up in the end.

All the declarations calling for the introduction of democracy in Minsk were therefore adopted in the absence of this eastern partner of Poland’s—if the word “partner” can at all be applied with regard to Belarus. The state-owned media in the republic governed by Lukashenko (all the media in Belarus is in state hands) lambasted the summit, accusing the EU in general and Poland in particular of arrogance, of meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, and even speculating about Warsaw’s alleged territorial claims with regard to its former eastern borderlands from the 1918-1939 period.

The four other countries covered by the Partnership are also difficult partners for the EU. Two of them, Armenia and Azerbaijan, are in a state of territorial conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, which is formally located in Azerbaijan but is populated by Armenians. Georgia has lost control of two provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were seized by Russia as a result of a brief armed conflict in 2008. Moldova has for over 10 years had a similar problem with Transnistria, which is not recognized as a state by anyone except... Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which in practice also means it is controlled, in one way or another, by Moscow.

Shortly after the EU leaders left Warsaw, Russian Prime Minister—and in all likelihood future president—Vladimir Putin unveiled his concept of a “Eurasian Union,” or an expanded alliance of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. There is no doubt that the Russian idea of pulling the post-Soviet republics away from the European Union—the reverse of the Eastern Partnership—will be promoted by the Kremlin in the coming years and decades, also with the use of measures as effective as the exportation of strategic raw materials such as gas or oil. Will the EU manage to win over the Eastern partners despite this competition? Excessive optimism is unwarranted at this point.
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