Last Tuesday was a very bad day for Radosław Sikorski. A real bad, bad day. Perhaps the worst in his political career.
That day Mr Sikorski was expected to provide some explanation for the baffling remarks he had made in an interview with Politico Magazine. Recalling the Tusk-Putin meeting in March 2008 he said: "[Putin] wanted us to become participants in the partition of Ukraine. This was one of the first things that Putin said to my prime minister, Donald Tusk, when he visited Moscow. He went on to say Ukraine is an artificial country and that Lviv is a Polish city (...). Luckily Tusk didn’t answer. He knew he was being recorded.”
Sikorski then asserted his words had been "overinterpreted", but wouldn't elaborate.
For a long time the partition of Ukraine has been a concept vigorously touted by obscure Russian nationalists, akin to Vladimir Zhirinovsky. But to hear Vladimir Putin blatantly toying with the very same idea is another matter altogether. That's why Sikorski's revelations sent shockwaves through the Polish political establishment and awoke a great deal of curiosity among the Warsaw commentariat. What was the real meaning of this disclosure? Why the six-year procrastination? What exactly was Tusk's reaction to Putin's advances? Was the then president Lech Kaczyński in the know? Is there a diplomatic memo which would corroborate Sikorski's version? If so, did the Polish government somehow share this knowledge with our NATO and EU partners? Did we inform the Ukrainians? And, last but not least, why did Tusk and Sikorski continue their policy of rapprochement with the Kremlin for the following few years?
Sikorski was supposed to answer all these questions and many more at a press briefing held on Tuesday evening. Amazingly, he answered just one: "No, I didn't personally attend that meeting in Moscow". A few dozen journos were expecting a high-octane exchange with the former foreign minister. Instead he basically showed them - pardon my French - the figurative middle finger, referring the outraged reporters to... "an interview due to be published shortly on one of the Polish news websites". The briefing was abruptly terminated. And then an avalanche roared over Sikorski's head...
The media went ballistic, scolding the speaker of the parliament for ineffable arrogance. The interview in "Gazeta Wyborcza" (that was THE website) only added to confusion. Prime minister Ewa Kopacz chastised Sikorski for "intolerable behaviour" and pledged to "discipline" him.
And she dutifully did, regardless of the old-fashioned principle of separation of powers. Several Civic Platform politicians tried to justify Kopacz's ire, alleging that she had acted as party chairman (Sikorski is a card-carrying member) and not as prime minister. All the same, the pinnacle of democracy it was not.
But the dressing-down must have been pretty painful for Sikorski (just for the record: he is the guy, who for the last seven years has been basking in galactic glory, worshipped by British columnists and extolled by German foreign policy pundits). The humiliation reached its climax later that day, when Sikorski appeared before journalists again, apologising for his "prior clumsiness". "There was never a one-on-one conversation between Tusk and Putin. My memory probably failed me" - he said. A few hours later Grzegorz Schetyna, the current foreign minister, officially announced on TVN24 news channel: "The scandal is over".
Is it really? Many disturbing questions remain unanswered. Mikheil Saakashvili, former president of Georgia, interviewed by TVN24 two weeks ago, said that Putin had been "offering" parts of Ukraine to some European leaders (Tusk being one of them) at the NATO-Russia summit in Bucarest in 2008. Oddly enough, Saakashvili's remarks never made headlines.
Tusk has kept mum since Politico Magazine published its interview. He neither confirmed nor denied Sikorski's initial account. He neither confirmed nor denied what Sikorski said afterwards. But he is undoubtedly the only person who could solve the mystery.
Sikorski's attitude is equally incomprehensible. Diplomacy is a potent drug, so he may be now suffering from acute withdrawal symptoms. He wants to keep playing his geopolitical games on the grand chessboard. He wants to be seen as an "indispensable actor"-cum-Russia expert-cum clairvoyant. He is eager to share his arcane "expertise" on international affairs with just about everyone. He seemingly misses all those addictive accolades he's got used to.
A former foreign minister who tends to talk way too much is a ticking bomb. I wish he talked a little less.