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Polish president suggests new Donbas peace talks format

Experts explain why
1 September, 2015 - 11:17

President Andrzej Duda of Poland recently reiterated the need to replace the format of Donbas peace talks. In an interview with http://www.politico.eu/ he stressed that any changes to the Normandy format make no sense today, that a new format is in order, involving the big-time EU members, the US, and Ukraine’s true neighbors [e.g. Poland]. He also noted that the current Polish administration isn’t markedly interested in changing this format. He said that kind of policy is wrong, that a more active policy is in order; that he would discuss the change of format with the German chancellor during his visit to Berlin.

The Polish government immediately lashed out at the head of state. Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna noted that there is no alternative to the Normandy format, whatever its drawbacks, adding that making a foreign policy using the media is like boarding a flight ending in an emergency landing, so the head of state ought to choose his words more carefully when talking about Ukraine.

The Day asked its experts for comment.


Hryhorii PEREPELYTSIA, Doctor of Political Sciences, conflict researcher, a professor at Taras Shevchenko National University, Kyiv:

“Duda wants to make his name as an innovating Polish foreign policy maker. He is determined to upgrade that policy so it can benefit Poland as part of Eastern Europe and the eastern policy of the European Union. This will win Duda certain points, too. In this context, the Ukraine-Russia conflict is very important. First, because it has everything to do with Polish national security – in fact, it has even more to do with the relationships between Poland and Russia, with Poland being a NATO member state. Remember the time it took Warsaw and Washington to negotiate the deployment of US missile defense systems in Poland, the talks that remain to be completed? At the time Poland succeeded in receiving the Patriot air defense system.

“Duda is thinking strategically, not tactically. First, he can see that the Minsk format is absolutely ineffective and deadlocked. On the other hand, Merkel, Obama, and Hollande keep saying that there is no alternative to that format, being fully aware that there is no way to implement the Minsk agreements. These agreements are the core of the EU-US politics, the reason for the sanctions [against Russia], and that’s the dead end. The big question is who will be the first to propose to cut the Gordian knot – because he will get the big prize. Second, Duda can see that the Normandy format implies no commitments, considering that each side is pursuing its own interests. Reaching a compromise is the only way to produce a result. This can be achieved only when the sides have a common interest.

“What is the current situation? It is important for Germany to pacify Putin, at all costs, including at the cost of Ukrainian territorial integrity, to settle the conflict, lift the sanctions, and resume cooperation with Russia, primarily in terms of energy supplies. There is also the powerful pro-Russia lobby in the German parliament, so Merkel is prepared to put pressure on Poroshenko to recognize the DNR and LNR, so the sanctions can be lifted.

“France has been traditionally looking over its shoulder at Moscow since the 19th century and is still seeing Ukraine through the eyes of Russia with its interests. What can we expect from Hollande? The bottom line is that the Normandy format spells no progress for Ukraine. Duda was absolutely right when he said that the Normandy format wasn’t working and proposed a Geneva one.”

Is there anything Poland could do to help settle the Donbas situation apart from joining the talks, as proposed by President Duda?

“When global players join the game in this format Poland will just get in their way. Poland, however, may come up with initiatives like the East Partnership, with the EU and US taking over the initiative. Otherwise, they might support a Polish initiative with their resources. Now that’s an actual possibility.”


Andrzej SZEPTYCKI, analyst, Institute of International Relations, University of Warsaw:

“Poland doesn’t like playing no part in the Donbas peace talks, considering that Poland has always been regarded as a major EU expert on Eastern Europe. Also, considering that Ukraine is our next door neighbor. Poland has repeatedly come up with proposals to extend the Normandy format, so Poland could become part of it, although I don’t believe this will happen.

“I regard the statement made by Kostiantyn Yeliseiev, deputy head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine, concerning the possibility of replacing the Normandy format, as an attempt to assert a more positive attitude to the Poles who came up with this initiative. A voice supporting the necessity of changing this format has been heard.”

“On the other hand, this initiative sounds good for the Poles. Duda is trying to show that he wants to enhance the role Poland is playing on the international arena precisely by expanding the Normandy format. As it was, the issue quickly fell prey to domestic politicking.

“As for what Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna had to say on the matter, particularly his remark about the president having to choose his words more carefully when talking about Ukraine, about the usage of the media – apparently our number-one diplomat learned about the president’s format change initiative from the media – we have a special situation in Poland. Our president and government belong to different parties. Similar situations have taken place in France and Ukraine. Remember the Yushchenko-Yanukovych and then Yushchenko-Tymoshenko political cohabitations? Such issues are often politicized, especially during an election campaign.”

Radoslaw Sikorski, ex-foreign minister, ex-speaker of the Polish Parliament (Sejm), was quoted by The Financial Times as saying it was too bad the European Union had declined to take part in the Donbas peace talks.

“I think the European Union made a mistake, considering that the Union claims an important part in international relations. In fact, the EU took part in the peace talks in the Geneva format, first in February and then in April 2014, together with the US, Ukraine, and Russia. But then, for reasons still to be known, the EU was left out of the negotiating process. This is proof that the EU foreign policy and that in the security domain leave much to be desired.”

You’ve mentioned that Poland isn’t likely to change the Normandy format. How could Poland help implement the Minsk agreements, considering that there is no alternative, according to Mr. Grzegorz Schetyna?

“I think the main task for Poland is lobbying for a pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian coalition within the EU and NATO. Proof of this is President Duda’s first visit to Estonia. I think that Duda will keep moving in that anti-Russian direction. This is good for solving the Ukrainian issue.

“As for weapons supplies, that’s for the government, rather than the president, to decide. We’ll have to wait and see what happens after the elections in Poland.”

The leaders of the leading European countries keep saying that the Minsk agreements are the only way to settle the Donbas conflict. What should the West – the EU and US – do to make Russia and Kremlin-backed separatists comply with these agreements?

“I believe they should take a rigid stand in regard to Russia. The problem is, the West doesn’t want to take this stand.”

Kostiantyn Yeliseiev, deputy head of the Presidential Administration, said during a briefing that sanctions against separate Russian nationals involved in or with the aggravating of the situation in the Donbas should be renewed in September. Will they renew them?

“They won’t, unless the hostilities aggravate. We have to keep the sanctions already imposed on Russia. Everyone is sick and tired of the war in the east of Ukraine, so discussing further sanctions would not seem topical.

“The West believes that Putin, being aware of the dear price he is paying for his policy in regard to Ukraine, will start changing it. In fact, that has more to do with Russia’s domestic economic situation. Here foreign influence is very limited, so it is safe to assume that the Donbas conflict will be frozen in the near future.”


Mykola KAPITONENKO, executive director, Center for International Studies, Kyiv:

“The new Polish president’s statement reflects his desire to have Poland play a more active part in the regional game, against the backdrop of world economic crisis. It is a loud but ungrounded statement. Berlin and Paris will keep events in Ukraine and along the EU borders under control. They will never let any minor EU members take over the initiative or influence. The Polish foreign ministry must be fully aware of the situation. From a broader point of view, the diplomatic crisis in resolving the situation with Ukraine – like any crisis – will generate populism and publicity. Under the circumstances, what we need from Poland is diplomatic support [for Ukraine] at the international organizations, strengthening cross-border cooperation in exchange for the working out of a common sub-regional security strategy.”

By Mykola SIRUK, The Day