With all the pomp typical of such occasions, Russia’s President Putin has announced the end of the Year of Russia in Ukraine. A tradition has been established, and on April 1 Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski will come to Kyiv to inaugurate the Year of Poland in Ukraine. What little these two events have in common is perhaps that they are named similarly and can pass unnoticed by rank-and-file citizens (in this case of Ukraine and Poland). Russia and Poland are the two major foreign exits for the current Ukrainian leadership. But it is obvious that the two have not only different foreign policy vectors, different conditions, and different goals. In their relationship with Ukraine, Moscow and Warsaw pursue different interests that are sometimes diametrically opposed. They have completely different influence on events in Ukraine. They follow different patterns of development and belong to different planes of modern politics. Even today they use different categories in the global system of politics. However, both countries are considered Ukraine’s main strategic partners (yet the ultimate goal of such partnership has always remained a mystery). Despite all of the above, one can say from the outset that while Russia is more or less known in Ukraine, one gets the impression that Poland is somewhere far away, even though Warsaw is geographically somewhat closer to Kyiv than Moscow. In any case, attempts by Warsaw to dictate its own policy to Kyiv are out of the question, although a certain degree of patronage by Poland is not ruled out.
The fanfare around the Year of Ukraine in Russia and the Year of Russia in Ukraine, much like their style, ranked on a par with events typical of the Soviet period. Perhaps the same awaits the Year of Poland in Ukraine and the Year of Ukraine in Poland (2005). Simultaneously, despite the hopes expressed among others by Borys Tarasiuk, chair of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration, it is hardly worthwhile to expect that these years will see some sort of qualitative and quantitative breakthroughs. Thus, it is not worth it to overestimate them. Yet one should expect at least some results.
Poland will become a full EU member as of May 1. This alone will determine the direction of the main vector of the Polish politics in general, especially considering that Poland along with Spain were to blame for the fiasco of the recent EU Summit in Brussels that addressed the issues of approving the draft European Constitution, determining the number of commissioners in the European Commission and deputies to be delegated to the European Parliament from each EU member state. Warsaw now must vindicate itself before the old EU members. Otherwise, its vote will carry a lot less weight than it could have. And only after that can one say that Warsaw will be able to direct major resources, including those from the common EU budget, to building a new Eastern dimension of EU policy. Poland is already trying to assume precisely this role.
Late 2002 saw the airing of a document drafted by the Polish Foreign Ministry, which included proposals for this Eastern dimension. It stated, in particular, that the level of relations between the EU and Ukraine should not be lower than that of the Russo-European relationship and that Ukraine must be offered clear prospects for its possible EU membership, should it comply with the requirements of the so-called Copenhagen Criteria (democratic political development, a competitive market economy, and freedom of the press). Recently, Polish diplomacy has drafted a document that sets forth proposals for the future Ukraine-EU Action Plan. According to Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, these proposals contain much of what Kyiv has already passed to Brussels (last summer and during the Ukraine-EU Summit). To quote Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Poland will act on behalf of Ukraine in such organizations as NATO and the EU. Finally, Poland is perhaps the only European country (aside from Great Britain) that always says openly that Ukraine should be admitted to NATO and the EU after it complies with the relevant requirements. Poland is but a single country that openly tells Ukraine: “Follow in our footsteps, but learn from our mistakes.”
Thus, at the political level Poland presents itself as a true friend of Ukraine even without the Year of Poland in Ukraine. The frequency of meetings of Presidents Kuchma and Kwasniewski until recently almost equaled that of meetings between Kuchma and Putin. Kwasniewski openly supported Ukraine during its recent diplomatic isolation, because he is one of those who realize what Ukraine means for Poland’s national security. That even he has of late voiced concern over the events in Ukraine is evidence that things are approaching the limit beyond which even he could find himself unable to put in a word for Ukraine. And this could happen precisely in the Year of Poland in Ukraine, thus burying this idea altogether.
It is hardly worthwhile to compare Poland’s political influence on Ukraine with that of Russia. Even when the Polish-Ukrainian strategic partnership was established with great fanfare, Ukrainian diplomats would admit off record that the bond with Russia is still stronger many times over. In the past two years the attempts by Russians to influence events in Ukraine have resulted in an influx of Russian capital, Russian political technologies (most often unsuccessful), the SES, a gas transport consortium, talk of backpumping via the Odesa-Brody pipeline, and the Kerch Strait Agreement. Obviously, this is not the end. For obvious reasons Warsaw cannot boast of similar successes in Ukraine and will not be able to do so even after the Year of Poland in Ukraine is over. Moreover, one should remember that aside from the fact that Poland had been a metropolis for Ukraine in the days long past, and these ties had been also severed long ago, Poland will never become for Ukraine what Germany had been for Poland.
Speaking of the business potential in the relationship, it is also far from inexhaustible. The Year of Poland in Ukraine can somewhat stimulate business contacts, especially between Poland and Eastern and Southern Ukraine. But so far this intensification has no chance of acquiring the same meaning that the relationship with Russia has for Ukraine. Poland has no energy resources; it is not a strategic market either for Ukraine’s metallurgy or for any other raw materials and semi-raw goods that account for most of Ukraine’s exports. Polish companies have no political lobby in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Polish business and banks face big problems in Ukraine such as non-repayment of VAT and pressure from the local authorities. Few in Ukraine are seriously interested in what Poland can offer, for example, in the way of helping to establish a Western style of doing business or gain access to Western markets. Simultaneously, Russia offers simple and understandable for the domestic business things such as shadow operations, forceful methods of solving problems, a market for goods that are not competitive on Western markets, obsolescent technologies, and so forth. On the other hand, however, Poland’s EU accession could prompt the Poles to use the Year of Poland in Ukraine to find and use new possibilities either through free economic zones or otherwise.
Under certain conditions, the Year of Poland in Ukraine could help Ukrainians find answers to seemingly simple questions as to why, for example, the Poles wanted so much to join NATO and the EU and not the CIS and SES. Why does the average Pole, despite all the problems, live much better than the average Ukrainian? Why has Poland managed to overtake Ukraine in economic development at such a strikingly faster pace? Why do Ukrainians go to Poland to work and trade and not vice versa as is was once upon a time? This alone would be a good result that would justify the idea of holding different Years in Ukraine. Then we could rush to meetings, concerts, exhibitions, and parties with the Poles.