VILNIUS - President Valdas Adamkus made two more trips to Ukraine this week as part of the ongoing international effort to resolve the country's political standoff.
The last round on Dec. 6 appeared to make some headway in the crisis, as presidential rivals - pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and pro-West Viktor Yushchenko - agreed to hold a new presidential runoff ballot.
Adamkus attended the negotiations along with Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affiars Javier Solana, OSCE Secretary General Jan Kubis, Russian Parliamentary Speaker Boris Gryzlov and outgoing Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma.
"I have previously said that we had hard negotiations, a hard process [in previous two missions], but that was pure amusement compared to this night because they collided quite strongly over details," said Adamkus before departing for Vilnius. "The general result is exactly the same - leaving the meeting with a guarantee that the election will certainly take place on Dec. 26," he added.
Though Adamkus regarded the talks optimistically, Kuchma, who has not hidden his preference for Prime Minister Yanukovich, stated that they had failed to achieve an agreement that satisfied both sides.
Nevertheless, the opposing sides agreed to stick to the Ukrainian Supreme Court's ruling to conduct a repeat ballot on Dec. 26.
The sides also agreed to replace the strongly criticized Central Electoral Committee in Ukraine, which had discredited itself in order to revise rules and regulations curbing forgery and to halt the two-week blockade of state offices by pro-Yushchenko supporters.
Adamkus' representatives said that it was expected that the third trip would be for international moderators.
"In the worst-case scenario, we will see each other again only after Dec. 26," Adamkus told the country's ambassador in Ukraine, Viktoras Baublys, upon his departure.
In Vilnius, political experts were busy discussing what benefits the Ukrainian conflict could bring Lithuania, and what the president's mediation efforts meant for the country. Most agreed that the country's image abroad, stung this year by an impeachment and an MP corruption scandal, has received a major boost.
"Lithuania and Poland's active response to Ukraine's hardships have demonstrated the 'benefits' of Easterners to those in Europe who were skeptical about [EU] enlargement," wrote Dovile Jakniunaite, a lecturer at the Institute of International Relations and Science, in her analysis to the Lietuvos Rytas daily.
"While most European countries apathetically watch over or fear Russia's reaction, some new member states have taken the initiative and even achieved creditable results," she wrote.
Other experts, however, have noted that Lithuania's contribution to the conflict is rather symbolic. Adamkus himself has said that the most credit should be given to Kwasniewski.
"Lithuania's participation in the negotiation has substantial influence to the country's international prestige. Yet how significant is Lithuania's input in the debate? Apparently our ambitions and strategies to concentrate our experience in the East exceed our resources," said Klaudijus Maniokas, professor at the Institute of International Relations and Science. "Yet once given the chance, one is not allowed to miss it."
Russian media observers warned that Lithuania and Poland's participation could lead to a rebirth of the second "Zhechpospolita," the historical confederate state of Lithuania and Poland. But local analysts do not think that Adamkus' participation in Ukraine could impair bilateral relations with Russia.
"Russia always tends to spread radical ideas. However, in this case Russia itself demonstrates imperial ambitions, and not Lithuania or Poland," Maniokas said.
Experts agree that touching the Ukrainian conflict has helped accumulate symbolic political capital for the country, and the benefits will only be enjoyed if the political crisis wrapped up in success. That, however, is something no one can guarantee.
"Whether it will be possible to apply the capital and the status somewhere else, or whether it's a mere sandcastle will strongly depend on the Ukrainians. If the turmoil worsens in Ukraine, all efforts and dividends will automatically be in vain," Jakniunaite said.