Without much of a fervour or pomp last week saw the end of the most prominent and quite efficient couple in the Foreign Affairs Council. Carl Bildt and Radoslaw Sikorski left the stage and took up their new roles. It’s an end of an era and I am afraid also an end to their most precious pet project of the two gentlemen – Eastern Partnership.
Lana Zerkal, the deputy minister on Euro-integration, is a “novice” at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but in the field of European integration she is one of its most experienced professionals. Zerkal is sometimes called one of the co-authors of the Association Agreement (AA). From the first to the last round, she has participated in negotiations for both the political and the economic parts of the agreements, representing the Ministry of Justice in the negotiation process.
The current conflict over Ukraine has quickly escalated into a matter of geopolitical importance. Cornered by the events and pushed into assuming a position, the EU has officially responded to the situation by imposing sanctions against Russia in three waves. While the EU has so far largely managed to speak with one voice, this does not mean that member states must by definition agree with one another â publicly or privately. The region of Central Europe, and particularly the Visegrad Four (V4) countries, is â along with the Baltic States â most exposed to the negative effects of the EUâs sanctions taken against Russia and those of Russia against the EU. Alluded to over the weekend during the Summit of European leaders in Brussels, the EU is eyeing another round of sanctions, whilst countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and, increasingly, the Czech Republic are now opposed to any further sanctions against Moscow. And while the issue over Ukraine is not the first one that the states disagree over, does it have a potential to undermine the good relations among V4 states? And what is it that is behind their different positions?
A week ago a major rebel offensive began. On September 3 on a sixteen-mile stretch of road from the village of Novokaterinivka to the town of Ilovaysk, I counted the remains of sixty-eight military vehicles, tanks, armored personnel carriers, pick-ups, buses, and trucks in which a large but as yet unknown number of Ukrainian soldiers died as they tried to flee the area between August 28 and September 1. They had been ambushed by rebel forces and, according to survivors, soldiers from the army of the Russian Federation.
The feeling at the time was that the Cold War had brought about stability. Forget the fact that Soviet tanks had crushed the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 or the Prague Spring of 1968. And forget the silencing of dissidents across Eastern and Central Europe. But the West’s acceptance of the Cold War status quo—often blindly supported by left-wing parties—was not going to stop those behind the Iron Curtain who wanted freedom and democracy.