Sunday, April 22, 2007

Slovakia silent as Ukrainian crisis deepens

With President Victor Yuschenko's decision to disband parliament and hold early elections, a new political crisis began. Now it has entered its second week, foreign diplomats and well-wishers have travelled to Kiev offering to help broker a solution. Surprisingly absent from this group is Slovakia, despite having declared Ukraine its foreign policy priority in 2004. No official government statements on the unrest have been issued either. Why?

As interested as I am in the politics of country I live and work in there are some things its government does that is more surprising than what I see the President in my native country doing. So, for my Slovak readers and my American friends this is what has been going on.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, whom Yuschenko accuses of trying to oust him, met on April 12 with Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas and reassured him that the crisis would not affect Ukraine's foreign or economic policy--the country is a major transit route for natural gas to European markets--while a group of European Parliament members was also in Ukraine on a mediation mission, with EP deputy speaker Marek Siwiec urging European lawmakers to pay more attention to what he described as "a power struggle".

If these names sound familiar that is because these two, Yuschenko and Yanukovych, are old foes from Ukraine's 'Orange Revolution' in 2004, when Yuschenko won a repeat presidential vote after Yanukovych's victory in the first round was found to have been accompanied by massive election fraud. Last month defections of some MPs in the Ukraine parliament to Yanukovych's ruling coalition, made Yuschenko accuse the government of trying to gain enough support to impeach him, and shut the legislature down. Paranoia or not, the parliament has continued to meet, however, while Yuschenko insists new elections will be held on May 27.
Siwiec has said that the European Parliament and the European Union should change their attitude to what is happening in Ukraine, since if we allow the crisis to escalate it could threaten European interests and Ukraine's European ambitions. Wise words considering the geographical significance of the country. Even former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has been on hand to mediate between the two Ukraine leaders. Kwasniewski played a major role in brokering an agreement during the Orange Revolution.

However, in Slovakia, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ján Škoda said his ministry would not comment on a situation it regarded as an internal matter of Ukraine. Telling the The Slovak Specator "We are monitoring the situation on a daily basis, and of course we support all democratic forces in Ukraine, what we are doing is adequate for the situation. We cannot compare what is happening to the Orange Revolution."

This is odd considering the previous government statements over the past few years.
Following Yuschenko's victory over Yanukovych in early 2005, then-Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda mentioned how Slovakia would offer Ukraine all of its experiences gained from reform. The country was praised for its engagement on Ukraine by US President George W. Bush during his speech in Bratislava at the Bush-Putin summit in February 2005. High-level contacts with Ukraine have continued under the new Fico government, including visits by Fico and Foreign Minister Ján Kubiš this year and Defence Minister František Kašický and Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška in late 2006.

In trying to answer my own question of why I remember Foreign policy analyst Alexander Duleba comments that it was too early to tell what the nature of Slovakia's interest in Ukraine would be under the new administration, basically meaning business, or Ukraine's democracy and Western integration. This is a part of the puzzle, as is the fact that there has been no public pressure, no demand for the Slovak Foreign Ministry to respond. It is understandable that Kwasniewski is in Ukraine since it is part of Poland's internal domestic discourse, but why has there been no public discourse on Ukraine in Slovakia. We have had debates on Turkey and Kosovo? This is particularily strange since it was Kubiš along with Kwasniewski who had played a key role in resolving the 2004 crisis.

Action is needed. Slovakia has a unique opportunity to be the leader within Central Europe and help pull Ukraine closer to the E.U. The closer Kiev gets the farther away from Moscow and that is what is important if European integration is going to work.

Until next time

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