Alexander Kwasniewski, formerly the president of Poland (1995-2005) calls Europe to task for failing to rally behind Ukraine, in the Wall Street Journal:
It will be 20 years later this month since President George H.W. Bush delivered his historic call for a “Europe whole and free” in Mainz, West Germany. The context in which he spoke was one of optimism and change made possible by Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms. Four days later, Poland held its first competitive, multiparty elections in more than half a century. By the end of the year the Berlin Wall lay in ruins and a surge of people power had dismantled one-party rule from the Baltics to the Black Sea. The Soviet Union survived for another two years, but its fate had effectively been sealed.
The old Europe of Great Power rivalry, machtpolitik and spheres of influence was to become a thing of the past. There would be no more Yaltas, no more Berlin Walls. The prospect of European Union enlargement helped to sustain former communist countries in the difficult task of political and economic reform. Ten of them are now full members, contributing to the EU’s vitality. More controversially, NATO has also expanded to the east. In countries accustomed to the benefits of security and territorial integrity, this is often dismissed as a second-order issue. For the countries that have joined NATO more recently, it is anything but. It is an affirmation of their identity as part of the democratic world and the ultimate guarantee of their sovereign independence. As Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state at the time, told the foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic when their countries joined: “Never again will your fates be tossed around like poker chips on a bargaining table.”
Despite these achievements, the process of making Europe “whole and free” is incomplete — and will remain so as long as there are Europeans denied the opportunity to pursue their chosen path. That was the tragedy of the Western Balkans for much of the 1990s. Today, the area of greatest concern is Ukraine. This country of 46 million is too large and too important to be left out of our vision of the Continent’s future. Yet the West’s approach to Ukraine has been hesitant and confused, while the early momentum of the Orange Revolution seems to have stalled in the face of political and economic crisis.
European leaders lament the political divisions and slow pace of reform often found in Ukraine. Many of these criticisms are justified and need to be addressed by the leaders in Kiev. But that lack of progress is, to a considerable extent, a reflection of our failure to embrace the country in a way that endorses its ambition to play a full role in European affairs. There is a reason why reform and accession to the EU and NATO usually go hand in hand. It’s because the prospect of membership makes painful decisions electorally acceptable where they would otherwise be impossible. It isn’t realistic to expect European outcomes without a full European commitment.
Our policy toward Ukraine is thus a question of whether we remain faithful to the idea of a Europe whole and free. This raises problems when dealing with a Russian government that regards neighboring countries as part of what Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has described as its area of “privileged interests.” But while sensitive handling is certainly called for, it would be wholly wrong to treat Ukraine as a disposable asset in negotiations between Russia and the West — a poker chip, as Madeleine Albright put it. Ukraine is an independent European democracy entitled to the same rights and opportunities we claim for ourselves.
It is right for Barack Obama to give Russia the opportunity to set aside recent tensions and make a fresh start in relations with the West, just as it is understandable that German Chancellor Angela Merkel should want Russia to be a reliable partner and energy supplier. But it is vital that European and American leaders pursue the aim of a better relationship with Moscow in ways that honor the basic values on which the new Europe has been built. Undermining the principle of self-determination for any European country should not be considered a price worth paying for closer ties to Russia.
EU or NATO membership for Ukraine is not on the immediate agenda, so there is no point in turning it into an issue of division today. The real test is whether Ukraine will be given the same opportunities extended to other European countries. It needs a structured partnership with both organizations and a firm signal that membership is attainable if it meets the conditions. This is not a question of altruism. The recent energy agreement between the EU and Ukraine, for which President Viktor Yushchenko deserves real credit, is a good example of what Europe stands to gain from encouraging closer integration.
Europe has been transformed since the days of the Cold War, but it is not yet whole and it is not completely free. It cannot be either of those things if 46 million Europeans are denied the right to take part. It is time for Europe and America to embrace Ukraine and renew the promise of 1989.