A win-win situation?
In late November 2013, the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement was due to be signed. The Vilnius summit was often pictured as a symbolic moment that would prove the validity of the Eastern Partnership, the European Union’s initiative started both by Sweden and Poland in 2008.
“It is a historic day which brings whole new possibilities to Ukraine,” some voices were heard saying. The country of the former Soviet Union was about to choose its only sensible direction – toward the West. European officials had even turned a blind eye to the fact that Yulia Tymoshenko was being in jail. Freedom of a political (as some say) prisoner portrayed lesser value than wresting another Eastern European state out of Putin’s hands.
All of a sudden, a week before the scheduled meeting, Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president, announced that he would not sign the agreement, a decision which froze all possible ways to maintain an already over-prudent dialogue. Yanukovych, pressed by Putin, closed off Ukraine’s plans of becoming a part of the mystical West. At the time he probably did not realize what kind of repercussions his decision would have.
A huge, unforeseeable, bottom-up social movement spilled onto the streets of Kyiv, bringing the world’s attention to the country after almost ten years of not paying too much attention. Thousands of people became socially active, organizing protests and the now famous Maida, as the capital’s main square came to be known. Media coverage exploded after the brutal pacification of the protests in February 2014, and since then, the Ukrainian president’s empire has been rapidly falling apart.
A diplomatic offensive
However, it was not only the media which noticed the chance to gain from the Ukrainian Revolution. Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, recognized his one and only shot at reaching the tops of the polls again. Poland has had the tendency to support Ukraine’s European efforts since the very beginning of the agreement-making process.
Starting in November 2013, Polish politicians changed their travel plans in order to show up in Kyiv and support Ukraine’s democracy, grasping every opportunity to raise the country’s political position in Europe. February 2014, however, brought a brand new eastern policy in Poland, creating a totally new way of communication. Donald Tusk prepared and released an enormous diplomatic offensive, the main goal of which was becoming the leader of Central Europe.
At the end of January 2014, Donald Tusk organized an outstanding Euro-tour. In just a few days not only did he managed to have personal talks with such first-class European politicians as Herman van Rompuy, José Manuel Barroso, François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and David Cameron, but he also met U.S. Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel. During the course of the next few days, Tusk’s time was spent with the leaders of Sweden, Finland, and the Visegrad Group.
Even though most of these meetings have not borne any fruit, the efforts have definitely not gone down the plughole. Tusk posed himself as Central Europe’s leader; a man who can be followed by other, smaller countries of the region. It was also a crucial period when the Polish prime minister became, de facto, Ukraine’s ambassador in the EU. It does not need to be mentioned that contact with the opposition leaders in Kyiv was held constantly.
One of the most significant moments of the Polish presence in establishing the new political power in Ukraine was Radosław Sikorski, the minister of foreign affairs, backing up the agreement between the opposition and Yanukovych by shouting into the representatives of Maidan’s faces: “Sign it, or you’ll all be dead!” As nobody expected Poland to take this serious and brutal stance, it has become a showcase for the future of Tusk’s pro-Ukrainian, anti-Russian policy.
Now that the European Parliament election campaign has finally started, it is clearly visible what was all of the above has been made for. At the inauguration of Platforma Obywatelska’s (Civic Platform – Tusk’s party) campaign, it was decidedly underlined that the main goal of Polish presence in the EU would be, among the other foregoing tasks, to provide stability to the domestic energy sector. However, the prime minister did not stop at this point, and more recently, talks on Poland’s domestic energy sector have been held at an international level.
What Tusk is trying to say is that the time has come for Poland to create and not be created. Even the idea of the Weimar Triangle has recently resurfaced. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland recently met to discuss the importance and possibilities for cooperation with Eastern Europe. And Poland is now talking about the East, because it is not a part of it!
Ukraine: a bouncing platform
What conclusions can we formulate by watching Tusk’s steps? First of all, Tusk has probably become bored of being called “one of the possible candidates for the European Commission’s chief,” which could be heard back in 2013, which were unclear, foggy perspectives for such an ambitious politician. After being a member state for ten years, Poland is determined to lead in this part of the EU. The Ukraine crisis has been a perfectly shaped bouncing platform for Tusk’s cabinet.
The situation at home has also been pretty bad: support for Civic Platform in the polls has been falling, more and more ministers have failed to gain voters’ support in Poland, and the situation inside the party has been stigmatized by the conflict of local leaders. Finally, the main rival party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) has been gaining more and more support, embracing the opponents’ misfortune.
Tusk has been forced towards the leadership of Central Europe by all of the factors mentioned above. Radicalization and becoming the main anti-Russian player is the only reasonable move that Donald Tusk could have done to save his position, both in the party and the country. And it just so happens that this goes hand in hand with becoming the first serious leader of the entire region.
However, there is now one question: Is it really a win-win situation and is Tusk really set to gain out of it?
Konrad Hyży is a student of European Studies at the Jagiellonian University focusing on Central Europe and V4 issues. He is also an analyst for www.demagog.org.pl, and an intern at the Cold War History Research Centre in Budapest.