Thursday, November 20, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Was There Another Yalta at Nice?

Paul Goble

Kuressaare, November 20 – A Ukrainian publisher who a close friend of the family of French President Nicolas Sarkozy says that the French leader met privately with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during the recent EU-Russia summit and agreed to recognize each other’s sphere of influence in Europe.
As they are accustomed to doing whenever Moscow and the West make a decision about them without them, the Ukrainian media have labeled this “deal” as another Yalta, a reference to the 1945 accord between the United States and Great Britain, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union, on the other, that left Eastern Europe under Moscow’s grip for nearly 50 years.
Because of the sensitivities involved and because neither the French nor the Russian government has confirmed this report, it is necessary to describe the report itself as it appeared in the Ukrainian newspaper “Segodnya” this week, before considering what in fact it may mean (
The paper says that Omar Arfush, a Ukrainian publisher who is close to the Sarkozys, told its journalists that the Nice summit was “preceded by an informal meeting between Sarkozy and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at which, according to information in the possession of Arfush, some very important agreements were achieved.”
In the Ukrainian publisher’s account, “before the summit Sarkozy invited Medvedev to meet with him” with only their closest aides for a dinner in the old city of Nice. At that session, Sarkozy reportedly asked Medvedev directly “What do you want?” And the latter replied that he wanted the two to agree on the partition of Europe into two spheres of influence.
There will be “my” regions, the Russian president said, and there will be “yours.” In this way, you help me and I will help you,” adding that he was especially interested in preventing the deployment of anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe and blocking the expansion of Western influence in Georgia and Ukraine.
To this, Arfush continued, Sarkozy replied “’If I will help you in this, then you must give me a promise that you will support me in relations with the United States and that you will not interfere in Europe.”
In other words, the Ukrainian paper’s Elena Tribushnaya writes, “a little Yalta took place in Nice: two presidents met and decided who will influence what in Europe and also agreed to work as a team on the world stage in order to finally take away the influence of the Americans and expand their own.”
Because there has been no confirmation of this Sarkozy-Medvedev “understanding” – and there isn’t likely to be – it is impossible to say whether this report is true or whether it has been put out for one of several purposes. But it is certainly the case that the exchange between the two leaders, if that is all that took place, qualifies as “a new Yalta” or even a “little” one.
On the one hand, such exchanges, in which each side seeks to find out what the other really thinks in an informal setting, are part and parcel of diplomatic life. Consequently, it may be that Arfush reported accurately but that he and the Kyiv journalists over-read and over-reacted to what was said.
But on the other, it is possible that this report is not accurate but rather an effort by Moscow to divide the West by setting Paris against both other European capitals and Washington and to intimidate the Ukrainians and the Georgians into doing Russia’s will by convincing them that their supposed friends are now no friends at all.
If that latter interpretation is correct, then it suggests that Western countries, including France, have overcome the Yalta approach but that the rulers of the Kremlin have not and still believe that big countries have the right to get together and make decisions not only for themselves but for smaller states as well.

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