Ukraine and Poland: Tied with one chain?
In early October, Wasraw-based Stefan Batory Foundation held an interesting discussion on security policy of Ukraine and Poland. The estimates and the statements voiced during the discussion seem to be useful for the analysis of the state of bilateral relations and of the political situation in Central Europe in general.
The discussion panel was held against the backdrop of an increasing refugee flow across Europe. The European Union is very sensitive to this factor, not mentioning lack of pan-European unity with regard to Russia and Vladimir Putin. The Poles have already gotten rid of fears of possible Russian aggression associated with their accession to NATO. They managed to complete European and Euro-Atlantic integration during the period of Russia’s relative weakness, and today the Polish officials and experts are very persistent in advising Ukrainian representatives. There are two key points to understanding the situation: Ukraine is largely to blame itself for the chances it has missed, but the position of the Polish side often sounds patronizing.
Poland has made considerable progress in the implementation of reforms and, by and large, has earned the right to give advice due its actions in domestic and foreign policy.
Having managed to live through a shock therapy in the economy in the early 90's and having significantly increased its political weight after joining the EU, Poland gained a lot of advantages. Its consistent support for our country is the evidence of a strategic vision for prospects of our bilateral partnership. But Warsaw sees Kyiv as a partner not too receptive to the advice. The situation is worsened with the Eastern Partnership but on a brake due to a political crisis in Moldova, and Azerbaijan actively flirting with the Kremlin.
Polish elite was confused with the Ukrainian MPs adopting a de-communization bill this April right after Bronislaw Komorowski, Polish President at the time, addressed the Ukrainian parliament during his Kyiv visit. The thing is, the bill has positive connotations regarding UPA (Ukrainian Insurgent Army), which is perceived in Poland differently, to say the least. The fact that the members of the former pro-Yanukovych Party of Regions have been actively spinning the issue of a so-called Volhynian Slaughter has a perfectly logical explanation. A number of Polish experts believe that the April incident at the Ukrainian Parliament was one of the reasons Komorowski lost in a presidential race. It is worth noting that the new leader of Poland, Andrzej Duda, is not hurrying to reach out to Ukraine. Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law and Justice) party, expected to get a full-blown political revanche soon (on October 25, Poland will hold parliamentary elections), perceive Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as a too pro-German of a politician, and fail to understand why Poland has not yet been invited to participate in talks on settlement of the Donbas crisis.
Meanwhile, the Polish elite is discussing whether Ukraine can successfully resist the Russian aggression. Their views vary on quite the important issues like lethal aid and economic assistance to Ukraine. They recognize that Polish voters don’t want to find themselves any closer to the conflict zone. But on the other hand, it is Poland and the Baltic states who have been observing very carefully the manifestations of a hybrid war. They do understand that in case of Ukraine’s hypothetical defeat, they will be the Kremlin’s next targets.
There are many ambiguous pages in the history of Ukrainian-Polish relations, and could not be otherwise in these "bloodlands," as Timothy Snyder, an American historian, called the territory between the Baltic and the Black seas.
Therefore, the “we-forgive-and-ask-forgiveness” formula looks unique under the current circumstances. It would be naive to deny that Europe is in a state of fatigue caused by the Ukrainian problems, and there is no practical experience of the integration of such a large state, which has not been reformed yet. As an advocate of Ukraine and its Sherpa guide, Poland will get plenty of bonuses that can strengthen its political influence in the EU. Those who doubt feasibility of the strategic partnership of Kiyv and Warsaw, should just imagine the political map of Europe without Ukraine and the prospects for Poland in this context. They should also keep in mind that 58% of Ukrainians have positive attitude toward Poland, which allows building bilateral relations on a solid foundation.