The opening sentence of Franz Kafka's The Trial springs to mind in the case of Anatoly Lysenko, who was sentenced by Warsaw district military court to two years in prison last Saturday. A major in the Ukrainian intelligence service, he had been arrested for spying on Ukraine's behalf. He said he saw his arrest as a provocation by forces determined to 'strain relations between Ukraine and Poland', whose bilateral ties grow ever closer under the shadow of Russia.
The same day, Major Lysenko's sentiments were echoed by his ambassador in Warsaw, Hennady Udovenko. He said the arrest was the consequence of the 'activity of influential forces which oppose the rapprochement of the two countries'.
Major Lysenko said that he had been blackmailed. Mr Udovenko asserted that, far from spying on the Poles, Ukrainian embassy staff in Warsaw had been holding confidential talks with senior Polish officials.
The case had an oddly trivial ring, in that the 23-year- old Pole whom Major Lysenko stood accused of recruiting received payment not in silver but in alcohol. An eminent Polish parliamentarian, Bronislaw Geremek, visited Kiev last month and said the case should never have gone to court. But he added: 'We cannot influence judicial independence. It is merely a hairline crack of the kind that occasionally appears in mutual relations.'
Major Lysenko's sentence was suspended for three years and is subject to appeal. As Kafka said: 'You may object that it is not a trial at all; you are quite right, for it is only a trial if I recognise it as such.'
Contemplating Major Lysenko's fate around the dinner tables of Warsaw this week, some learned heads pointed to a tradition of Poland tampering with Ukrainian politics and of Ukrainian retaliation in kind. It stems, in part, from historical tensions over the city of Lviv (as it is known in Ukrainian; Lwow in Polish, Lvov in Russian). The city, now in western Ukraine, was Polish for centuries but has been a centre of Ukrainian nationalism for over 100 years. And even disregarding that, friendly countries have been known to spy on each other.
But it seems clear that the Ukrainian ambassador was suggesting that Russia's hand lay behind the Lysenko case. The 'influential forces' he cited were Russians keen to drive a wedge between Poland and Ukraine. He may have been hinting that the major was in fact working not for his government but for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, led by Yevgeny Primakov. The Ukrainian press has since alluded to the involvement of a third country in the affair.
This ties in with the view of most former Soviet republics, and former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe, that Moscow is increasingly flexing its muscles towards what it calls its 'near abroad'. As the Eastern Europeans remain outside the Western club, they will continue to bolster themselves against Russia by building up their eastern flank and seeking closer relations with the westernmost former Soviet republics. The pressure from both directions leaves Ukraine as one of a wodge of vulnerable newly independent states in the middle.
The West has tried to allay the fears of these countries with Nato's Partnerships for Peace. The ostensible ambition is to have Russia buy into this programme along with other former Warsaw Pact countries. But this was always a long shot. Last week Moscow, having signalled days earlier that it would sign up for PFP, demanded a special status superior to that of Eastern Europe. The demand was put to three Nato ambassadors in Moscow and later rejected by the US.
As for Major Lysenko, he would no doubt disagree with Kafka's thought that 'it is often better to be in chains than to be free'.