Espreso. Global
Review

Poland's interest is Ukraine's victory and its assistance to it. Government and opposition statements on relations with Ukraine

Mykola Knyazhytskyi
28 September, 2023 Thursday
12:38

The degree of emotion in Ukraine's relations with Poland is slowly decreasing. Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna said that Ukraine has "returned to a constructive direction" the issue of grain exports to 5 Central and Eastern Europe countries.

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She believes that the Ukrainian authorities have managed to depoliticize this issue thanks to a roadmap for monitoring and verifying exports to these countries. This is a document of Ukraine's Cabinet of Ministers (adopted on September 26) that defines a new procedure for exporting corn, rapeseed, sunflower, and wheat to five EU countries. Now, Ukrainian exporters must obtain a license from Ukraine's Ministry of Economy in coordination with the Ministry of Agrarian Policy to export these grain crops to Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary.

"A gesture of goodwill"

Bulgaria and Romania have already adopted this Ukrainian roadmap, Slovakia is studying it, while Hungary and Poland have not yet changed their decision to impose an embargo on Ukrainian grain. However, it seems that the ice has slowly begun to break in these countries' relations with Ukraine.

Following a meeting on Tuesday, September 26, the agriculture ministers of the Visegrad Group (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) addressed their Ukrainian counterparts with a proposal that Ukraine withdraw its complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding the grain embargo. This, in their opinion, should "improve the atmosphere in bilateral relations."

In plain language, the statement of the Visegrad ministers may mean that the adoption of the Ukrainian roadmap should ease the situation of Poland and Hungary. This is a kind of "gesture of goodwill," which, however, is fundamentally different from the "gestures" of the Russian occupiers.

Obviously, we will not back down, because instead of adopting a roadmap for monitoring and verifying exports to 5 European countries, Ukraine will fully restore the Free Trade Agreement with the EU. In this case, the price of ending the embargo scandal is not high, and it can be paid without risking damage to the interests of the Ukrainian economy and politics. In addition, Ukraine needs the unity of the EU member states on the issue of Ukraine's European integration.

The policy will not change even a millimeter

On Tuesday, the Civic Platform presented its vision of "stabilizing Polish-Ukrainian relations." The Civic Platform is the most influential party in the Polish opposition, with Donald Tusk as its leader. He was Prime Minister of Poland in 2007-2014, President of the European Council in 2014-2019, and Chairman of the European People's Party in 2019-2022. The politician is very well known in Ukraine, a true friend of Ukraine.

Tusk convened a special meeting to discuss relations between the two countries and Polish policy toward Ukraine, inviting military, economic, agricultural, and foreign policy experts. Among those present were former Polish Army Commanders-in-Chief Radoslaw Sikorski (Minister of Foreign Affairs 2007-2014), Pawel Kowal (former Deputy Foreign Minister), and Michał Kolodziejczak (leader of Agro-Union, which launched a protest against Ukrainian grain imports).

"The Polish government has lost control" - this is how Tusk sharply assessed the policy of the ruling Law and Justice party towards Ukraine. - "We have a clear impression that the strategy (of the Polish authorities - ed.), if it exists at all, regarding the present and future of Polish-Ukrainian relations, as well as the actions of the Polish state in connection with the consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian war, is based on emotions or party interests."

He emphasized that Poland's goals and interests have not changed since the beginning of the war. "Poland's interest, and this goes without saying, is Ukraine's victory. This is also directly related to economic issues and the problem of refugees. Here, Polish policy should not change even a single millimeter. Support for Ukraine's military capabilities cannot be questioned."

Tusk emphasized that the great assistance that the Poles provided to Ukraine and Ukrainians in the first months of the large-scale invasion is "invaluable capital" that cannot be lost. It is on this capital that the new geopolitical situation in Central and Eastern Europe should be built.

The generals present at the meeting proposed the creation of an international council to coordinate military aid to Ukraine, which passes through the "hub" near Rzeszow. Poland should also increase the number of Ukrainian soldiers undergoing training in their country.    

Paweł Kowal stated that Poland has a unique chance to build long-term and close relations with Ukraine, as well as to open a "great, historic trade route" connecting the Baltic and Black Seas. To do this, bilateral sectoral agreements or a new interstate treaty should be signed.

The meeting of politicians and experts of the Civic Platform is important for two reasons.

First, the Polish opposition presented its own program for the development of Polish-Ukrainian relations, based on the extremely positive experience of relations between the two countries and peoples after February 24, 2022. Under this program, Poland is a friendly country to Ukraine. This country lent its truly fraternal, strong shoulder at the most difficult moment for the existence of Ukraine and its nation. And Poland did not ask how Ukraine would thank it for this. Because Ukrainian gratitude is obvious and will be recorded in the national memory for many decades.

Secondly, despite the fact that the Polish authorities harshly criticized Tusk and his words, the opposition leader achieved his goal. An alternative to the ruling party's policy has emerged in Polish-Ukrainian relations. The policy that the Law and Justice party began to implement in April of this year, and its purpose and methods of implementation have become a mystery not only to Ukrainians, but also to Poles and Poland's allies.

Polish Prime Minister's statement that surprised the world

On September 21, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki made a statement that Poland "no longer transfers any weapons to Ukraine." His words surprised Ukrainians, and many were even frightened, although in fact Polish companies continue to supply weapons that Ukraine purchases under existing contracts.

Morawiecki's statement was widely discussed by the global media, which saw it as a sign of a significant weakening of the pro-Ukrainian international coalition. World politicians also took it seriously. The U.S. administration requested explanations from Poland, and a similar request was made to the Polish defense minister by his German counterpart.

Solid ground for pro-Ukrainian policy

The influential Rzeczpospolita newspaper and the well-known RMF FM radio station asked Poles themselves about their opinion on Morawiecki's statement. The results of the survey (published on September 27) showed that the opinions of the respondents were almost equally divided: 47.2% positively assessed Morawiecki's words, while 44.5% were negative.

The vector of assessment clearly correlates with the political sympathies of Poles themselves: 71% of the Law and Justice party supporters and only 30% of opposition supporters perceived the Prime Minister's words positively. The first group is dominated by men (51% of positive assessments), people over 50 (60%) and rural residents (60%). This correlation is even more evident among those who receive information from state television - 75% of those who watch TVP.

So, in its anti-Ukrainian turn in policy, the current Polish government is focused on half of Poles, which is certainly a lot. However, the other half of Polish society strongly supports the provision of assistance to Ukraine at war.

And it is to this part of their countrymen that Tusk and his colleagues have addressed their appeal. They correctly understand that supporting Ukraine to a complete victory is in Poland's fundamental interests. They also feel that there is a solid ground of public support for such a policy.

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