PAP: On Wednesday you will start a three-day visit to the South Caucasus. What are the main objectives of the visit?
Witold Waszczykowski: We are connected to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, by historical ties, good political relations and an interest in increasing economic cooperation. We want to discuss the cooperation of the Caucasus countries with the European Union, the security situation in the region and wider Europe, the relations of the visited countries with their neighbours and leading international actors.
We want to intensify our political contacts, in doing so stimulating the economic exchange growth. We have a lot to do in this area after the negligence on the part of the previous government, which broke with the Caucasian direction of diplomacy adopted by the late President Lech Kaczynski.
In Azerbaijan, talks will focus on Poland’s greater economic presence in sectors such as transport and logistics as well as the food industry.
Additional prospects for our economic cooperation include Azerbaijan’s cooperation with the EU, which wants to use the Eastern Partnership to lead dialogue with the Caucasus countries, including with regard to the development of the concept of „connectivity“ – building links between the EaP countries and the European Union by building infrastructure, energetic and social connections.
Georgia is the most determined in terms of integration with the European and Euro-Atlantic community. In Tbilisi, I intend to reiterate Poland’s strong support for the territorial integrity of Georgia and pro-European reforms that we have invested in for years.
Together with my Georgian colleague, Mikheil Jannelidze, I will open the second meeting of the Tbilisi Conference, which aims to share Poland’s experiences in the adjustment process to the EU in order to assist Georgia in getting closer to European structures.
In Armenia we want to talk among other things about tightening economic cooperation, in particular further opening the Armenian market to Polish food producers, military equipment and investors. We already have experience within existing investments, some of which are positive – for example, the PWPW contract for the production of Armenian identity documents and passports.
We want to express our support for the policy of extending Armenia’s cooperation with the EU, as embodied by the signing of the EU Framework Agreement in the coming weeks. We also want to help maintain the internal reform process aimed at modernizing the country’s society and economy in the spirit of deepening the country’s democratic political model.
I will meet with representatives of a number of ministries and companies in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia, and in doing so confirm that we are continuing the foreign policy of the late President Lech Kaczynski, who brought tangible benefits to Poland and the Caucasus states up until 2010, which was a tragic year for all of us.
I am convinced that the return to this policy will bring results which correspond to the national interests of Poland and the expectations of our partners.
Also discussed during the visit will be possibilities for further cooperation in the implementation of economic and infrastructure projects and new ideas for expanding bilateral exchanges.
It will also be an opportunity for representatives of LOT, PKP, PGZ and PWPW, who are interested in expanding in the region.
PAP: Do you think the Eastern Partnership and, more broadly, the EU Neighbourhood Policy are currently in crisis? If so, what is the outlook for getting out of the crisis and what actions is Poland taking in this regard?
W.W.: The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is indeed in crisis. There are three main reasons for this.
First of all, it is structural and results from the faulty construction of the ENP, which from the outset assumed that its aim was not to expand the EU – although its implementation was in line with EU bodies that had previously dealt with enlargement policy – and that it should be deprived of so-called hard security elements.
Secondly, the EU does not have sufficient funding for neighbourhood countries, in order to compensate for the absence of a political agenda. As a result of this the ENP’s offer is not attractive enough.
Thirdly, since the launch of the ENP, the geopolitical situation has changed significantly, both in the EU’s southern neighbourhood („Arab Spring“, the Syrian war, the migration crisis) and in the eastern neighbourhood (Russia’s aggression against Georgia and Ukraine).
The geopolitical conditions in both EU-adjoining regions have also changed by the arrival of new actors, lead by China, with alternative developments offering, especially in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative.
It should be noted that the ENP crisis does not affect the southern and eastern neighbours in equal measure. Although the first EU initiatives in the Mediterranean area date back to the 1950s, even after the introduction of the Union for the Mediterranean there has been no measurable effect.
Against this background, the eastern dimension of the ENP is fairing much better – despite only eight years of existence. Since its inception in 2009, most of its original objectives have been achieved.
The Association Agreement and the Comprehensive Free Trade Area (AA/DCFTA) entered into force with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. Citizens of these three countries do not need visas to travel to the EU. We also concluded negotiations slightly more narrow than the AA/DCFTA agreement regarding partnership with Armenia. We are negotiating a similar agreement with Azerbaijan.
These are genuine successes of Polish diplomacy in the EU – multiplied by the achievement of maintaining for three years a sanctions regime against Russia for its armed aggression against Ukraine and the occupation of the Crimea.
Poland – together with Sweden – was the founder of the EaP and from the very beginning played a leading role in its implementation and promotion.
Despite the fact that the EaP was not supposed to lead to enlargement, Poland has always been of the opinion that EU treaty provisions state that every European country has the right to apply for EU membership. Without a doubt, this also applies to EaP countries. Our position has not changed.
It is pleasing to note that Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, has changed his mind with regard to his initial scepticism about enlargement. This is an important signal primarily for the Balkans, where without a new quality of EU involvement matters could head in the wrong direction.
In the case of the EaP countries – following the aforementioned decisions integrating them into the EU sectorally: in the area of passenger traffic or commodity exchange – it is time to focus on fulfilling the commitments resulting from association agreements and partnerships.
Reforms – unpopular in the short term – will provide the conditions for starting discussions on enlargement in the future. One must bear in mind, however, that without a political vision on the part of Brussels, it will be difficult for the partners to be interested in implementing a very ambitious reform agenda.
Poland is seeking to build cooperation with the EaP countries in the area of reforms so that from the very beginning both they and EU member states are confident of the benefits of the effort (regardless of their level of ambition for EU integration).
That is why we are talking about the expansion of all types of connections, led by transport and energy connections. They would link the EaP countries to the EU in a structural and long-term way, and would increase mutual trade and tighten political relations.
They would also help increase mobility on both sides of the border, level legal and social standards, in particular given the current process of visa liberalization.
This is best seen in the example of Poland and Ukraine – thanks to small border traffic, the lifting of visas, the gradual improvement of infrastructure and the development of the network of bus, rail and air routes, the common border is disappearing. Mutual trade and the flow of people are both seeing dynamic growth.
As a result, our citizens and societies are getting closer, and the political agenda is enriched with other important components. We would like similar processes to be observed in all EaP countries.
The expansion of energy connections with EaP countries and their introduction of European energy regulations would also bolster the energy security of Poland, the EaP countries and the region as well as the EU as a whole.
This could also take place through the diversification of directions of supply of energy carriers to and from the EaP countries, for example in the context of the supply of American LNG gas through the terminal in Świnoujście or the planned Polish-Danish Baltic Pipe pipeline.
A project along these lines is, for example, the extension of the Polish-Ukrainian gas interconnector Hermanowice-Bliche Volytsia.
As I have mentioned, we are looking at connectivity issues more broadly, including digital connections (broadband internet, roaming) and interpersonal links.
Our offer in this area is aimed primarily at young people, who benefit most from the expansion of mutual relations and who will make up the future elite of their countries.
PAP: What are Poland’s expectations for the Eastern Partnership Summit taking place in Brussels in November? What should the EU offer to the countries of the Partnership? And what is the chance that such an offer will be made?
W.W.: Poland, as one of the authors of the Eastern Partnership concept, is particularly keen on the further development of EaP policy and the full involvement of all stakeholders in its implementation. Poland is pleased that the text of the Declaration agreed by member states and forwarded for consultation to the six partner countries of the EaP on 13 October 2017, incorporates the European perspectives and aspirations of our partners and preserves the language of the Riga Declaration.
However, we do not want to focus only on the content of the Declaration, which – although important – is only a means to realize the long-term prospects of developing relations with our eastern partners.
In our opinion, it is necessary to focus on the specific objectives and projects that all citizens of the EaP, and not just politicians and officials, will have.
The direct objective of the Summit should be to show that the reform process implemented with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine and with the other partners brings immediate benefits and leads to them actual getting closer to the EU.
PAP: Do we know at what level individual partners will be represented, including whether Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko will be attending?
W.W.: During the summit, Poland will be represented by Prime Minister Beata Szydlo. Most member states and EaP countries will be represented at the highest level: by the president or the prime minister, depending on the specificity of the given state. In a few cases, the level of representation will be lower (Minister of Foreign Affairs).
The Belarusian President Alexsander Lukashenko was invited to take part in the summit – another gesture on our part encouraging an open and honest dialogue. Belarus will have the opportunity in Brussels to confirm its readiness to hold partnership talks on strengthening cooperation and relations with the EU.
PAP: How do you assess the political situation in each of the three Caucasian EU partners – Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – in the context of the hope of bringing them closer to Europe?
W.W: The road to building sovereign statehood and strengthening democratic values after decades of Soviet occupation is not easy. We offer advice on how to overcome challenges.
An example of our support is the already mentioned Tbilisi Conference, as well as the institutions of cooperation that operate in our relations with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
As for the hope of bringing the South Caucasus countries closer to the EU, I would answer briefly that everything is in their hands. I am setting off on my first Caucasian trip, amongst other things in order to emphasize that, to a large extent, the dynamics of getting closer to the EU depends on the consensus between the political forces and the convergence of the will of those in power with the will of the society in this regard.
The countries I will visit show differing achievements in this area and follow different paths to – I hope – one goal of deepening mutually beneficial cooperation with Europe. Cooperation not only in economic terms but also in terms of security.
PAP: In addition to relations with the EU, do you see room for cooperation in this area between the countries of the South Caucasus and NATO?
W.W.: Poland is among the countries that seeks to maintain NATO’s interest in cooperation with the countries of the South Caucasus.
Georgia is in this respect the model for other partner countries. This is reflected in the existing NATO-Georgia Commission mechanisms as well as the special status enjoyed by the country, belonging to the exclusive Enhanced Opportunities Partners group, in cooperation with Finland, Sweden, Australia and Jordan.
Tbilisi’s active approach is highly regarded by NATO countries. Existing political circumstances make it impossible, at this stage, to move ahead on the issue of Georgia’s membership of NATO, which is something we regret.
We hope that this will change and that Georgia will join the Alliance as a full member of the Euro-Atlantic family. Poland intends to continue to support the reform of Georgia’s defence sector. We are the leading state in the reform of the Georgian Special Forces and we are committed to supporting the military police.
For Armenia and Azerbaijan, cooperation with NATO provides an opportunity to improve its capabilities for the modernization of its defence system. Baku takes part in the Partnership for Peace and is a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council.
It has also cooperated with NATO on counter-terrorism, military education and civilian crisis planning. Azerbaijan also participates in the Alliance’s operation in Afghanistan, and in the past also in Kosovo.
The priorities for Armenia’s practical cooperation with NATO include: reform of the defence sector, participation in peace-support operations, border protection, fight against terrorism, crisis management, language training and scientific cooperation.
Poland intends to link bilateral cooperation with the needs of Armenia in the implementation of the Individual Partnership Plan with the North Atlantic Alliance.
PAP: What are the prospects for bilateral cooperation between Poland and the countries of the South Caucasus regarding security matters?
W.W.: Long-term industrial partnership and cooperation between the arms sectors should be something natural for us. We must face up to similar challenges, and we have a similar perception of the threats in the region.
Opportunities to strengthen our relationships in this area exist – but they must be used skilfully, in line with international commitments. Poland has a very good armaments offering today. We manufacture modern armaments that meet the standards of the North Atlantic Alliance and have been tested in combat conditions.
Another element that speaks for the Polish defence industry is its extensive experience in the modernization of Soviet/post-Soviet armaments, which is of particular importance in the South Caucasus countries, which share the legacy of post-Soviet military technology.
More specifically, we would like industrial-defence cooperation with Georgia, which in the past decade has resulted in concrete contracts, to gain new momentum in the context of the modernization plans of the Georgian Armed Forces. We also see opportunities to intensify cooperation in this area in Armenia.
PAP: What role does Russia play today for Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan? What are the actions undertaken by Poland and Western organizations to offset Russia’s influence in the region?
W.W.: We are very concerned about Russia’s policies towards its neighbours. There contain neo-imperial elements, nostalgic longing for the Soviet Union.
This became very clear with the aggression on Georgia in 2008, and quite obvious after the occupation of the Crimea and the provocation of the conflict in Donbas.
Russia’s leaders still seem to be guided in their thinking about neighbouring countries by a kind of modern version of Brezhnev’s doctrine, assuming their limited – tailored to Moscow’s interests –sovereignty.
In relations with other countries, Poland has always been a supporter of the partnership approach, this includes our relationship with the Caucasus countries. Therefore, we react in two ways.
First, through the Eastern Partnership programme, which I have already mentioned.
Secondly, we are trying, wherever possible, in the EU, NATO, the UN and other international fora to raise public awareness of the lawlessness and human tragedies that have taken place in Ukraine and Georgia as a result of Russian aggression as well as the pressure it exerts on other countries, including those in the Caucasus.
For over three years, the EU has consistently maintained a policy of sanctions against Moscow and countries such as the United States and Japan have provided assistance. These sanctions are not only a response to Moscow’s methods, but also a clear warning that similar acts of aggression will be met with clear-cut responses by the international community.
PAP: Will you talk about the unresolved territorial disputes in the region during your visit to the South Caucasus, including in particular the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Can Poland engage in mediation efforts or take action to address such disputes, for example in the UN Security Council?
W.W.: In Tbilisi, Baku and Yerevan I will stress, as I have in the past, that there is no alternative to the peaceful resolution of these conflicts.
We support international and bilateral efforts to de-escalate the situation in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. We also intend to do so in the UN Security Council as its non-permanent member in 2018-2019.
We also support the International Geneva talks as the most important negotiating forum in the Russian-Georgian conflict.
In view of the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, we want to emphasize the immutability of our position, based on the postulate of respecting the basic principles of international order, including sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders and the right to self-determination.
We appeal to both sides of the conflict to make every effort to prevent armed incidents and to abide by the ceasefire regime.
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Zdroj a ilustračné foto: http://www.msz.gov.pl/en/news/polish_fm__european_integration_of_eastern_partnership_countries