Espreso. Global
Interview

Ukraine's window of opportunity open until end of Russian aggression - Polish politician Borusewicz

7 July, 2024 Sunday
19:02

Bogdan Borusewicz, a legendary Polish politician, Marshal of the Polish Senate from 2009 to 2015, and current senator, discussed the prospects for Ukraine's EU accession and coalition in the war with Russia in an interview with Anton Borkovskyi, who hosts the Studio West program on Espreso TV

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I would like to ask you how you assess the situation with the so-called security guarantees for Ukraine? We understand that this is a very complicated matter, negotiations are ongoing between the EU and NATO member states. And, of course, there is a security agreement between Poland and Ukraine on the table now. How do you see that structure?

I am a supporter of political and military ties between Ukraine and Poland. And this is not only about agreements, I believe that we should go further. Of course, with the support of the Americans. But we can stabilise this part of Europe if we act together. We are not talking about the formula for this cooperation, but it should be a very close cooperation. Then we will be able to stabilise this part of Europe, because Russia will continue to be a serious country, and Russia has shown itself to be an aggressive country, revisionist, without a sense of borders. So we have a common interest here, I mean, I think these guarantees should ensure a common interest.

It is not a one-way guarantee, and it is not a guarantee from Ukraine to Poland. This is the way to think, this is the way to analyse it. But, and you know this, no guarantees will help if Ukraine does not protect itself. After all, the guarantees were not in the form of an agreement when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. I remember how worried the Americans were that the nuclear weapons would go back to Russia, how worried they were that the suitcase would go somewhere and fall into the hands of terrorist groups. But what happened?

Guarantees for Ukraine are just arms supplies, but I think we need to go further. Poland should think, and we should think together, about some kind of alliance with the support of the Americans.

Because without such support, we will simply be thrown out of NATO, and with support, the Americans will be able to move to Asia. After all, it will be natural, and all politicians are talking about it, not just Trump, but Biden is also talking about it, that American interests are primarily in Asia at this moment: the problem of competition with China, not hostility, no, but competition, serious competition. So if we went in that direction, everyone would be happy.

Actually, a lot will depend on the so-called political elites. We are talking about specific people in Warsaw and Kyiv. We have had a few difficult months, and I have not fully understood what happened. We are talking about some kind of cold relationship between President Duda and President Zelenskyy. We are talking about the UN meeting in the United States. Now it seems that the climate may have improved and there is a chance for the continuation of Polish-Ukrainian security cooperation. And we understand that the challenges are enormous, indeed. Very difficult challenges, and it will depend, as you said, of course, on the United States. And we don't know how the situation in the US will develop.

But I would like to say that there is a certain imbalance between Poland and Ukraine, and I noticed it in this issue: in Poland, the prime minister is in charge and the government is in charge, not the president. The power is in the hands of the prime minister, who has a level of power equivalent to the chancellor. The president controls the security and defence sectors, and has competence in foreign policy, mainly in appointing ambassadors. And that is all. Instead, all power over the army, and also over the security forces, i.e. the police, and the services, is concentrated in the prime minister. This should be remembered when we talk about President Zelenskyy and President Duda here.

Yes, President Zelenskyy has much more power here, in fact, he has almost dictatorial power, but the president in Poland does not.

Why am I talking about this? Because it's election time in Poland. And the presidential party, Law and Justice, lost the elections. And at the moment there is a completely different government. So, if you talk and look at who you need to talk to and decide now, it's the government and the prime minister, Tusk.

Good. How do you assess the situation between the Polish government and the Ukrainian government, between the Polish government and the Ukrainian government? Because we need to continue cooperation and, perhaps, raise it to a completely different, higher level.

The current government in Poland, the Civic Coalition, of which I am a member, is the dominant party, and this is actually the government of the coalition. We also need to remember that Prime Minister Tusk has to take into account the opinion of the coalition partners. And the same goes for Ukraine. Fortunately, we are continuing the policy towards Ukraine that was launched immediately, a policy of support - military and political.

Military support means that we have given Ukraine more tanks than all of Western Europe combined.

In fact, a huge number - about 500 tanks, more than 50 howitzers - powerful and modern, 20,000 starlinks, more than 500 power generators. And these are just a few selected items. The most important thing for Ukraine, of course, is military assistance and support, but also political support, i.e. support for joining the EU, and we give full support here. And support for joining NATO. For Poland, joining NATO was much easier than joining the European Union. Because joining NATO is a political decision, the army has to be led by a civilian, the army has to be adapted, but once it starts to adapt to NATO standards, it is possible to join. And joining the European Union means adapting the entire economy to EU standards. These are negotiations related to the transition period.

And, of course, negotiations related to grain issues... What will happen to the EU market, which is open to Ukraine, but there is still a separate position of Polish farmers and the Polish government?

Negotiations, negotiations. For example, when we were negotiating, we secured a long period during which there was a ban on the sale of land to foreigners, in case someone was afraid of this. We have to take this into account, because we also have to take into account the interests of our citizens, and farmers are our citizens. And there will be a discussion that must take into account the interests of both sides. And it is quite possible that a transition period will be needed. Just as we had a transition period for buying land, and the EU had a ban on the movement of Polish labour, i.e. workers from Poland, and it worked. Those fears disappeared in a couple of years.

Won't the so-called activists return to the border?

They are not there. And you know, if we keep an eye on it and make arrangements in time, they will not return. What is the situation now? There are no blockades at the moment.

And there is no grain in Poland at the moment, there is a shortage.

We are waiting for the new harvest, and when it comes, we will have grain, because we don't have grain in Poland right now. We exported 14 million tonnes. I recently spoke with a colleague who specialises in this and actually asked him, and he said: "There is no grain in Poland, we are short of grain". I said, "Then we'll buy it in Ukraine."

And he replied that there is no grain in Ukraine either, because Ukraine exported 24 million tonnes.

Fortunately, there will be a harvest in the near future. But it's time to realise that if there is a problem, it needs to be solved. And not wait for months and so on. The previous government did not address this, and the problem only grew. The price of grain went down, and farmers claimed and complained that this was due to the influx of Ukrainian grain. And this was because the price of grain had also fallen on world markets. And the government was telling farmers: don't sell this grain now, because it will be more expensive in the autumn. Meanwhile, in the autumn, the price of grain went down, so it was easy to explain, to develop a theory that it was because of Ukrainian grain or Russian grain. So, at this moment, the situation is nil, but it is worth preparing for possible actions.

Of course, as we enter the process of negotiations with the EU, we understand that Poland has its own voice, and Poland will defend its interests, and of course, Ukraine will defend its own. But the most important thing is that these national interests do not clash.

Yes, and we need to come to something. Interests are not so selfish, although of course there are those who say "I have to make money on this"... Yes, but of course during the negotiations, Ukrainian agriculture, which is very powerful, is a problem. We need to come to an agreement here, because this is agriculture where no artificial fertilisers are used at all, because there is black soil, except for plant protection products, and because of this, the price of grain can be much lower.

Ukraine's accession to the EU also means additional payments for Ukrainian agriculture.

We already have a hectare surcharge of about 250 euros, which is the average surcharge in Europe, and we started with lower ones. But if Ukrainian agriculture enters, will it be possible to keep these surcharges at the same level? Because Ukraine will join.

And our farmers, especially large-scale farmers who make money on this, will try to protect the level of these surcharges, because it is billions of euros. We need to understand this. But this requires negotiations, conversations, and so on. In a democracy, nothing can be done by force.

But there should be consultation mechanisms, communication mechanisms between the Polish and Ukrainian authorities. And here I'm not necessarily talking about any open consultations, but between the President of Ukraine and, for example, Prime Minister Tusk, right? We were expecting a meeting, but it was postponed a little bit, as we understand it, for various reasons. What would the situation look like now? What are the prospects for the growth of this diplomatic, political and economic activity?

We are active diplomatically, but we are also building our position in the European Union. Because we have lost this position, we are rebuilding the so-called Weimar Triangle. These are meetings between Poland, Germany and France. And the role of Poland has increased because we are the country on the Ukrainian front, closest to Ukraine. We are the country that sends aid to Ukraine. Through us, because the Hungarians have blocked it. A little bit through Romania, but mostly through us. 

Grain exports go through Romania, while military equipment goes through Poland. This is not a secret, I am saying what the Russians know very well. But we, politicians, as I have said to my colleagues and as I have said to my Ukrainian colleagues, should talk and discuss what will happen after the war, how Polish-Ukrainian relations will develop, what we want, how we want those relations to look like. Should it just be a general principle, as it is at the moment, or should we treat Ukraine better? Ukraine is our neighbour and ally, so we have a greater interest in cooperation with Ukraine than, for example, the Germans, who have more money and will have more money, but have less national interest. And this is understandable. Italy and Spain are far away, and so are others. Different interest and different attitude. And in the European Union, all this should be centred, which is not always the case, because everyone is looking out for their own interests. If everyone fights to the end for their own interests, the EU will collapse, there is no such union. However, everyone gets something, and we benefit from the union.

And this will also be a benefit for Ukraine. Because it is true that the EU provides security. Not only NATO, but also the European Union, because it is a multilateral economic, financial, and cultural relationship. So we have to remember that the EU is much more complex than NATO. For Ukraine, NATO looks more complicated now because it is in conflict. Ukraine wants to be in NATO, but what does that mean? And it wants to be accepted into NATO, it is constantly striving for this. And what does joining NATO mean?

The fifth article is the most important...

Yes. It means the enactment of Article 5, which means going to war, but not in the way that we give weapons, but send our soldiers. We are well aware of this, and Ukrainians are also well aware of this. And here we have somewhat different interests. Because Ukraine would like to defeat Russia in the near future. This means that we need to involve as much different equipment as possible. We are talking about aviation, air defence systems and so on.

And there was an idea to use Polish air defence systems to cover the western cities of Ukraine, for example.

I have been thinking about this for a long time and I am a supporter of this solution. Because a missile flying towards Lviv could land in Poland.

In Lublin, for example, or in Rzeszów.

Yes. That is why we have to defend ourselves here and, of course, defend Ukraine as well. But this is also a question for some interstate defence agreements and so on, because we cannot just shoot over Ukraine.

Why? What if, for example, there was some kind of agreement with the Ministry of Defence, with the General Staff?

There should be. But now, of course, it doesn't exist. There is no such agreement. One country cannot shoot without permission, without an agreement, over another country, even to defend itself. They keep saying, Putin says, that Poland wants to occupy the west of Ukraine, they keep talking about it. But I wrote a letter, I talked to the Russians at the time, and I told them well: no, no, give back something of yours, for example, the Kaliningrad region, not someone else's.

Give us Smolensk, Russians...

No, Smolensk is far away, but the Kaliningrad region... So give us something of yours, and we will even share it with the Lithuanians. But you understand that this is an attempt to split, a rather primitive one. But we were talking here about actions against Ukraine. But the main thing is that the Patriot systems that are already near the Ukrainian border in the vicinity of Rzeszów are American Patriot systems, and the Americans, American commanders decide whether to fire or not.

So it should be a trilateral agreement? Polish-Ukrainian-American?

But the Americans will not agree to this, because they do not agree to long-range strikes on Russian territory. Now they have made very good progress - that it is possible to attack Russian territory within at least 100 kilometres of the border through Kharkiv. Otherwise, the Russians would shell it without any losses for themselves, from across the border, destroying the city, and the Russians would go too far. And this is the American response, but the Patriot batteries in Rzeszów are subject to the decisions of American commanders. The American leadership decides whether to fire and where to fire. We don't have that capability.

But Poland also has its own Patriot system.

You know, Poland has fewer Patriots than Ukraine at the moment. So in general, I would say we don't. So yes, we gave the MiG-29, we gave these aircraft. The problems are: you will have problems with missiles for the F-16. You will have problems with covering those airfields, defending the airfields. We need to talk and discuss, but it is obvious that military experts are needed here. But those aircraft, those F-16s, must be protected, because it makes no sense for these planes to be destroyed within three months. And the war is ongoing, and this aircraft is not something exceptional. It's a good aircraft, but it's not extraordinary, because it can also be destroyed, just like American tanks. Because many times, when I watch Ukrainian television, there is a wave of Bayraktars, then tanks. then Abrams tanks and Leopards.

This is how it looked, how it was shown, how the society was told that these weapons were indestructible. Every weapon can be destroyed. And F-16s can be destroyed, and they will be destroyed.

 But you need to prepare to simply protect them.

And you need to know where to place them.I once said that in a country with mountains, such things are located in underground bases that are difficult to destroy. And the Russians have already warned that if they are located on the territories of their neighbours, i.e. Poland, such bases will come under attack, i.e. Russia will attack them. I don't know whether it will or not. This is, of course, a matter for politicians, but on the technical side, there is also the military, which should know where.I think that the situation Macron was talking about may come, and it will become relevant.

Would Poland have joined the French proposal or solution if such a situation had occurred?

The Polish prime minister said no.

But maybe things will change...

But I think that such a strong denial is not good. Even if the Russians don't know completely how we will behave, no one wants to go to the front, so as long as it is possible and as long as it is effective, we should help with the weapons that Ukraine needs.

In the US, the situation may change, Trump may come into office. And of course, Macron, and not only Macron, is thinking about the situation in a few months.

But then the European Union will be united, there will be a deeper consolidation of the European Union.Both in the military sphere and in foreign policy.

In Ukraine, we really appreciate Poland's help, for example, because it was done quickly.

Lightning fast, very fast. Yes, but such assistance should be supported by society, because you can do more harm than good. But I'll tell you, I look at Ukrainian men who are in Poland, young men, and it causes a negative reaction among Poles.

We in Ukraine are ready to accept them, but will Poland be ready to give them away? Or help us get them.

We need to talk about this, but this is also an issue of our interest, because these men work. You know, if we lose them, entire sectors of the economy, such as construction, will collapse. We need to weigh everything, but I think the key thing for Poland is to support Ukraine. And everything should be subordinated to this: both our political decisions and what we do abroad. Because this is the most important thing. Why? It's clear, it's obvious, Putin is a revisionist, he undermines all the principles of international law.

When he launched his aggression against Ukraine, he had previously said the same thing about Poland, that NATO should withdraw from countries that had joined NATO.

Yes, that is true. And not just withdraw, but those countries should be in the second category in NATO. They can be in NATO, but they should be in the second category. No foreign troops can be deployed there, as you know, there are restrictions. Obviously, this is the beginning, it is clear to me. It is clear to me, and I say to the Germans, consider it, because the influence of the Soviet Union was there before the Elbe, so it is not like it does not concern you.

Putin. I have been listening to that Russian propaganda for a long time. And it's clear to me that he wants to restore, and the question here is whether the Soviet Union within the Soviet Union borders or the Russian Empire within the borders of 1914. He has never said it clearly, but the Russian Empire is simply half of Poland.

He is pursuing a policy of aggression, but his goals, he does not clearly define his goals.It's very vague, so we have to do the same, answer: maybe yes, maybe no. If there is such a need.

The most important thing is the readiness of the army... Communication, logistics and capacity, I agree with you. And I would like to ask, for example, about the fate of the Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian joint brigade. A few days ago, I spoke with Bogdan Klich, the former Polish Minister of Defence, and he said that there is a good prospect of creating, for example, a division from that brigade, and perhaps even a Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian military corps.What would the chances be?

As a political slogan, it is a good slogan.This Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian brigade was created in a different situation. I remember the moment of its creation, and I supported it because it was really a matter of the future, even though I did not know how Russia would behave. But its usefulness for the current situation is small. It's not much, because what's the point of having a brigade? But in the future it would be useful... But in the future, logistical, armed and human support will always be useful for Ukrainians.

No, we are talking only about the climate in six months, the situation may change, but the most important thing is to have something on paper, that is, we understand that there is a military bureaucracy, the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defence, not only Ukrainian, but also Polish, and so on.

Here we have to think more broadly... About alliances. About alliances of different types. Now it's not a difficult situation, Ukrainians are coping, but the question for us, for me, is what to do when Ukraine stops coping? And I say: we need to consider different possibilities. You are probably considering such possibilities, and we should also consider them. For now, Ukraine is coping.

But we had a difficult period when the United States...

But the EU voted to provide 50 billion.

But not 100 billion...

Well, okay, but then you can say why not 150 billion.The US voted for 60 billion. What do you want from poor Europe, that kind of money?The US is richer, but at the same time, the US is a power.This does not mean that someone will give.You can vote for 100 billion, but you have to buy weapons for it, that is, produce weapons.The United States has weapons.Only the United States has such a stockpile of weapons. In Ukraine, we have to restore and rebuild the arms industry. I'm a member of the National Defence Commission, so I deal with the army, and I know a little bit about the nuances. We have to make huge efforts to return to what we had before. Everyone was eliminating weapons production.Not only we, but also the Germans, and the French have also limited production, although the French have a large arms industry. It seemed that these were funds that were being wasted because they were not building the economy.

This was very acceptable to everyone. You know, at some point I also thought that there was no work, only retirement.Poland is in NATO, in the EU, we have achieved what we wanted to achieve. It was incredible that we managed to achieve it. But you know, for example, we joined NATO and the EU only because we did it at the right time. There are time windows in politics. And the country either enters that window or not. Now we would not be allowed to join NATO...

As for Ukraine, has the window not closed yet?

It has. I mean, it is open, and I think it will be open until the end of the Russian aggression, and then we'll see. To do this, we have to think together about what comes next. We have to think now and discuss now to have a concept so that we can start implementing it. We need to know what we have to do. I am also in Ukraine to talk about this.

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