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Crimea a turning point, Polish ambassador says

IN THE longer term, we have to rethink the vulnerabilities in our relations with Russia, including energy and financial dependencies, said Polish Ambassador to Slovakia Tomasz Chłoń in an interview with The Slovak Spectator. “What happened can be a turning point in how we construct the security and defence of the European Union,” Chłoń said.

IN THE longer term, we have to rethink the vulnerabilities in our relations with Russia, including energy and financial dependencies, said Polish Ambassador to Slovakia Tomasz Chłoń in an interview with The Slovak Spectator. “What happened can be a turning point in how we construct the security and defence of the European Union,” Chłoń said.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What are the main challenges the V4 countries face in connection with recent developments in Crimea?

Tomasz Chłoń (TCH): First, the immediate tasks have more to do with helping Ukraine rather than our own internal risks: to prevent an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and help the Ukrainians to quickly prepare for stabilising the situation politically and economically, and then starting necessary reforms. In this immediate phase the key is to send OSCE and EU observers to Crimea. Their presence would have a calming effect. Both Poland and Slovakia have people experienced in international observer missions. There are plans to send two observers from Poland. To be active there on the ground as part of the mediating international community can be an effective way to keep the risks and threats away from our own borders.

Secondly, we have the EU and NATO as political and economic tools at our disposal. After 15 and 10 years of our memberships we've gained firsthand experience on how to effectively make use of them. There's no need at the moment to start any contingency planning. But since there are potential security risks, we asked for allied consultations within NATO. We also welcomed the decision to convene an extraordinary summit of the European Union where heads of state and government should agree on our immediate response to Russia and measures to assist Ukraine. As for Russia, the best way is to agree on possible sanctions against the officials responsible for the aggression against Ukraine. Not against Russia, but individuals.

Thirdly, the most difficult perhaps, is to think about how we can improve our dialogue and cooperation with Russia, provided that Russia is not coercing its neighbours. We need a democratic and prosperous Russia, as well. Such a Russia could become a member of both the EU and NATO. But Russian leaders have to change their worldview.

I appreciate the very close, historical, cultural and personal ties between Russians and Ukrainians. But what must be understood in the Kremlin is that there's no competition for anybody as far as the EU is concerned. The EU is not signing agreements or enlarging countries against their will. The EU, like democracy, is not perfect, but there has been no better way ever to govern relations between nations. That's why people still want to join, starting from Turkey. Most of the Russians know or somehow sense its soft power.

TSS: In the event of a longer-lasting crisis, a considerable influx of Ukrainian migrants is expected, especially in Poland. How should countries in the region, including Slovakia, address migration-related challenges?

TCH: We are addressing them very effectively. There's a working group of the representatives of the ministries of interior of the V4 and they are coordinating closely on preparations for a potential influx. Maybe we are not the richest countries of Europe, but we are affluent enough to provide adequate resources. In case there are needs which are difficult to bear by individual states, the EU has procedures and resources to assist with that.

We are, in a way, historically obliged to help refugees because we know from our own experiences what it means to have to run away: 1956, 1968 and 1981. We remember how people in the west helped our refugees. So there's a moral obligation. Because of that, I am sure we would have a major mobilisation of civil society, non-governmental and charity organisations and volunteers who would engage in providing care, shelter and help for refugees. Many Ukrainians who live or work temporarily in our countries would join in the efforts. We speak of hundreds of thousands refugees but also hundreds of thousands of volunteers.

TSS: In your opinion, how should leaders of the V4 countries respond to developments in Crimea in their declarations and official statements? How would you describe the official Polish response?

TCH: The March 4 statement of the prime minister says it all. We still have to be vigilant and aware that the events in Crimea can unfold dramatically with possible provocations. There are huge emotions involved there, which are easy to manipulate.

The individual response of Poland was adequate to the risks involved and instruments at hand, including international. It was very quick, diplomatic and effective. We did not wait for the situation to escalate. Polish diplomacy has been active at the highest levels before and throughout the crisis in Ukrainian Crimea.

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