VILNIUS - European Parliament President Josep Borrell Fontelles nearly triggered a new wave of East-versus-West controversy in Europe after he reportedly lashed out at Poland and Lithuania for meddling in Ukraine's "orange revolution."
Borrell had been speaking at a closed-door session of an economic forum in Madrid in December when he supposedly said the Ukrainian crisis was resolved thanks to EU efforts and not because of mediation on behalf of Aleksander Kwasniewski and Valdas Adamkus. Poland and Lithuania, claimed Borrell, had not been instrumental and had essentially been "under U.S. control" while negotiating a settlement between the two sides in the conflict.
Borrell is a Spanish Social Democrat and, like Prime Minister Jose Zapatero, has icy relations with the United States' current administration. Once Zapatero came to power in Spain last year, he withdrew Spanish troops in Iraq, a move that has all but put a deep freeze on U.S.-Spanish relations.
But Borrell's comments caused a wave of indignation in Poland, where the leading daily Gazeta Wyborcza defended President Kwasniewski's mediation role in the potentially explosive crisis in Ukraine.
In Lithuania, President Adamkus and Parliamentary Speaker Arturas Paulauskas defended Lithuania's part and expressed dismay at Borrell's reported attacks.
"I think that Lithuania's role in the so-called orange revolution was recognized not because Lithuania is somewhere near Ukraine, but because Lithuania had stated a very clear position at various international conferences that Ukraine was important to the EU and that it was willing to participate in Western democracy and set its future in that direction," Adamkus told Ziniu Radijas radio on Jan. 7.
Paulauskas told the same station a day earlier that "the conduct of Aleksander Kwasniewski and Valdas Adamkus, as well as the outcome of their activities, were in keeping with the views stated at the meeting of the European Council."
Paulauskas stressed that Poland and Lithuania adhered to EU policies agreed upon in advance of negotiations in Kiev in December and that there could be no question of "U.S. influence" since free and fair elections in Ukraine was in the interest of both the United States and Europe.
New and old EU members clashed in 2003 when the United States began its military operation to oust Saddam Hussein, with French President Jacques Chirac suggesting that the 10 countries of Eastern Europe should have "shut up" rather than sided with America in the latter's war effort.
After the Gazeta Wyborcza article came to light, Borrell acted quickly to prevent another Europe-wide crisis from escalating. On Jan. 5 he called Kwasniewski, who had been a close ally of Spain in maintaining the two countries' voting rights in the Council of Ministers, and explained that he had been misinterpreted by the press. As Kwasniewski told Polish reporters that day, "Borrell phoned me today impressed by the press coverage he got here and explained that it was a misunderstanding, and that he would call a press conference today with Polish newsmen to clarify the situation."
According to the Polish president, Borrell expressed respect for Poland's involvement in Ukraine. "I accepted his words and asked him to repeat all that in public," he said.
Borrell also called Polish commissioner Danuta Huebner. "Mr. Borrell told me he was surprised by the way of reporting on what he had said," she said. "I think he sees it as distorting his words and intentions."
Baltic politicians said that Borrell's attack was essentially an attempt to maintain the rift in U.S.-European relations and distinguish EU foreign policy goals from those across the Atlantic.
"Such actions are unacceptable to us because the United States is the strategic ally of both Europe and Lithuania." MEP Eugenijas Gentvilas, was quoted as saying by the Jamestown Foundation. Adamkus and Kwasniewski's successful role in Ukraine should not cause resentment but help muster "active support for drawing Ukraine into the EU's political orbit," he said.
On a larger scale, the varying opinions among Western and Eastern Europeans on the outcome of the Ukrainian standoff reflects larger differences as to what the EU's policy should be toward the country of 48 million. Poland has taken up the mantle of Ukrainian integration in Brussels, while many top officials, particularly ex-EC President Romano Prodi, have stated in clear terms that there is little hope for the East European nation to join the union. And now that the European leaders have agreed to open negotiation talks with Turkey, leaving Ukraine out in the cold strikes many as grossly shortsighted.
"Lithuania has stated its clear position that Ukraine belongs and is necessary for Western Europe," Adamkus said last week, adding that before the recent crisis, Ukraine's role in Europe "had not been assessed properly."