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Before Plan B

“Plan B” – until recently a forbidden phrase in analysing EU-Ukraine relations – is now starting to dominate conversations. For the time being let it be drafted, while those who are still playing the game should think about strategic scenarios before the Vilnius Summit.

November 25, 2013 - Paweł Kowal - Articles and Commentary

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It wasn’t more than a week ago that the decision on signing the Association Agreement would lie in the hands of one man. Now, three days before the Summit the situation has changed. The game is still being played, but new players have showed up on the field.

God rarely gives a second chance. Viktor Yanukovych has to have some special divine privileges, as he has received it more than once. First in 2010 when he became president of Ukraine despite the Orange Revolution, when nearly no commentator thought he would have a great future. During the negotiations with the EU it turned out that he had a chance to go down in Ukraine’s history as the “Euro-integrator” and this a proud label for a Ukrainian.

After last week’s announcement by Mykola Azarov’s government, it seemed that this chance too was to be lost. Paradoxically, another signal of Providence comes in relations with the protests. Coming out in the streets, Ukrainians again gave him a second chance. If Yanukovych uses it and finds a channel of communication with the EU to make a last change, then he is guaranteed re-election (in 2015). If not, the Association Agreement will be signed in a few years by whom – Tymoshenko, Yatseniuk, Klitshko or maybe another politician?

On Sunday November 24th, 100,000 people gathered in the centre of Kyiv’s. Many of them spent the night in tents. President Yanukovych was trying to share the decision to sign the Association Agreement with the parliament, however it was too much responsibility for them to handle. Now he can appeal to those on Maidan and this in Ukraine quite often means more than the parliament. Right now, the demonstrators can help the president decide whether in Vilnius the Association Agreement will be signed. The question remains if such a scenario is even being taken into consideration. And whether, in the meantime, the use of force won’t spoil this scenario.

Polish President, Bronisław Komorowski, has a right to be disappointed with the attitude of the Ukrainian government. The same applies to the Cox-Kwaśniewski duo. The position of giving up was a historical mistake. These last two days before the Vilnius Summit call for our mobilisation and keeping in mind what is the EU proposal and its conditions. All to say: “see you in Vilnius”. A repeated offer should include a promise of a visa-free movement and financial support for reforms. Before the Vilnius Summit, it should be said that Moldova has a chance for visa-free movement next year, in the same way this mechanism worked in the Western Balkans. This is the signal that the media will distribute throughout the entire Ukraine. Nine years ago Maidan was a call also in regards to visas (Viktor Yushchenko promised it) and now it is a chance to really meet this promise. Thousands of people at Maidan are counting on such support. A decisive meaning can now be evident in the communication with the societies of the Eastern Partnership countries. We have to show that we care about the people of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The key to activating the EU in the last minutes before Vilnius should be an ad hoc axis of Warsaw-Vilnius. The visit of Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaite, in Warsaw on November 11th 2013 and the improving Polish-Lithuanian relations (with great effort on behalf of President Komorowski) may turn out to be decisive. What is needed here is a clear division of roles: ministers of foreign affairs, Radosław Sikorski of Poland and Linas Linkevicius of Lithuania are concentrating on the meeting of the EU foreign affairs ministers this week and their clear declaration on Ukraine’s European chances. Komorowski or Grybauskaite maintain contact with Yanukovych and help him model a position before the summit, while the prime ministers, Donald Tusk of Poland and Algirdas Butkevicius of Lithuania can mobilise Europe’s biggest players (Angela Merkel, François Holland and David Cameron) to come to Vilnius. Should this all succeeded, the Polish and Lithuanian presidents could play the role of a duet at the Vilnius Summit. Just like Alexander Kwaśniewski played with Valdas Adamkus (and later Adamkus did with Lech Kaczyński). Komorowski’s thought-out policy in regards to Ukraine can still bear fruit.

It is too early for “Plan B”. For the moment we need strong nerves and a four-day plan.

Translated by Iwona Reichardt

Paweł Kowal is a member of the Editorial Board of New Eastern Europe. He is a Polish politician and member of the European Parliament where he chairs the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee. He is also an adjunct at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

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