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Ukrainian-Polish relations: ambivalence in confrontation with Russia

Photo: korrespondent.net

The Ukrainian-Polish relations are in a protracted crisis. The beginning of the crisis can be considered the summer of 2016, when the Polish Sejm adopted a resolution where July 11 is proclaimed the National Day of Remembrance of Genocide Victims, committed by Ukrainian nationalists against citizens of the Second Rzeczpospolita during World War II. Thus, Warsaw made an attempt to review the consensus in relations between the countries reached in 2003 by Leonid Kuchma and Alexander Kwasniewski, who signed the statement "On reconciliation on the 60th anniversary of the tragic events in Volhynia".

The revision of Poland’s attitude of to Ukraine is very revealing. On the eve of Euromaidan, Poland and Lithuania were considered the most engaged lobbyists of Kiev in the European arena. In 2014, Warsaw promoted the idea of providing lethal weapons to Kiev for conducting a military operation in the Donbass.

In 2015, the newly elected President of Poland Andrzej Duda initiated (however, to no avail) the inclusion of Warsaw in the Norman format on the settlement of the conflict in the Donbass. In 2016-2017, Warsaw already urges Kiev to reconsider the policy of historical memory, threatening otherwise to block the European integration aspirations of Kiev and deny entry of Ukrainian citizens with anti-Polish views to the territory of Poland. When this material was being prepared, a number of media outlets circulated information that notorious Volodymyr Viatrovych, the head of the so-called Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, has been declared persona non grata in Poland, but there is no official confirmation to this effect.

It is obvious that the current Kiev authorities do not intend to abandon the militant ultranationalist ideology, whose flywheel is given momentum to solve internal political tasks. In fact, Petro Poroshenko entered the electoral campaign phase, which will be conducted under "patriotic" slogans, oriented towards the nationalist electorate. Since early 2017, the Ukrainian president has consistently toughened his rhetoric, initiating numerous prohibitions and restrictions, trying to appear in the eyes of the relevant electorate "the most patriotic of the patriots." Therefore, while not looking through the outlines of the normalization of relations with Poland, even Poroshenko suggested holding a meeting of the Consultative Committee of the Presidents of Ukraine and Poland because of the situation.

The questions of history don’t seem to be the only reason for the deterioration of the Ukrainian-Polish relations. Probably, in this case there is a trivial resentment of the Polish ruling class on the grounds that, following the results of Euromaidan, it did not receive sufficient leverage over Kiev, in spite of the fact that Poland was previously considered "Ukraine’s advocate in Europe".

In principle, the potential for further deterioration of the relations is by no means exhausted: for the first time in the last two decades, the number of citizens in Poland who are disloyal to Ukrainians exceeded the number of those who sympathize with immigrants from the neighboring country (according to a study published in Gazeta Wyborcza in early 2017). Apparently, the matter is also that Ukrainian labor migrants are a factor in the wage dumping in the Polish labor market in the context of the process of returning the Poles to their country from Western and Northern Europe (we are talking about 80,000 people over the past eighteen months).

However, it is obviously premature to make any apocalyptic forecasts as to the Ukrainian-Polish relations. After all, no one has abolished the existence of Poland's objective economic interests in the Ukrainian direction. From an economic point of view, Poland, which actively supported Euromaidan and further dramatic events, is nothing but the main beneficiary of the collapse of the Ukrainian economy and the transformation of Ukraine into a "failed state."

This issue primarily concerns the cheap and unassuming workforce from Ukraine, which has become one of the factors that makes Poland rely on economic growth in the coming years: only in 2016, Warsaw gave the Ukrainians 120 thousand permanent work permits and more than 1.3 million temporary ones. According to the Polish Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers, Poland needs an additional 5 million people for GDP growth over the next 20 years. In addition, referring to the massive influx of Ukrainians (which, we will note, in the second generation will be completely assimilated), Poland flatly refuses (along with other states of the Visegrad Group) to accommodate refugees from the countries of the Greater Middle East on its territory, acting in conflict with the European Commission.

A promising direction for Poland is expansion into the energy sector of Ukraine. Since within the framework of "energy independence from Russia" Kiev is ready to overpay for energy resources, in the long term, Poland can become Ukraine's supplier of US LNG from the terminal in Swinoujscie, considering that the Poland-Ukraine interconnector is to be commissioned by 2020. One can also recall the recent scandal involving the purchase of anthracite from the uncontrolled territories of Donbass in Poland, even though we are talking about only 11 thousand tons (Poland in recent years has turned into a net importer of coal), as well as the joint efforts of Kiev and Warsaw to block the construction of Nord Stream 2.

Finally, along with Belarus, Poland partly recovers the transit cargo flows that previously traveled through Ukraine. The Ukrainian "patriotic public" blocked the Russian trucks in early 2016 and periodically threatened to completely block the railway communication with the Russian Federation.

Among other things, there was a military-political rapprochement between Warsaw and Kiev against the backdrop of confrontation with Russia. In addition to the demands on the international community to tighten anti-Russian sanctions, Kiev and Warsaw do not stop building up their combat potential in the framework of the joint brigade LITPOLUKRBRIG, which recently received the name of Hetman Konstantin Ostrozhsky. As the head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry Stepan Poltorak stated, in 2018 the brigade will take part in multinational exercises under the NATO leadership. In addition, Polish servicemen took part in the September exercises of Rapid Trident - 2017 in the territory of Ukraine, which took place practically simultaneously with the Russian-Belarusian exercises "West-2017".

External centers of power, aimed at continuing confrontation with Russia, apparently do not need the transition of the Ukrainian-Polish conflict to a more acute phase, because Kiev and Warsaw will be restrained by calls from high offices located in the Euro-Atlantic countries. It seems that in the short and medium term, the status quo will remain in the Ukrainian-Polish relations.

Denis Gayevsky, Kiev

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