Espreso. Global
Interview

Unblocking border benefits both Ukraine and Poland: Mykola Knyazhytskyi on blockade’s impact on state relations and Ukrainian defense capabilities

29 November, 2023 Wednesday
14:03

The blockade on the Polish-Ukrainian border has persisted for over three weeks, closing all roads for vans and trucks. This disruption in goods transportation is harming the economies on both sides of the border. Beyond economic concerns, the blockade is eroding Ukraine's defense capabilities

In an interview with the Polish TV channel Super Express, Mykola Knyazhytskyi, a People's deputy and head of the group on inter-parliamentary relations with the Republic of Poland, shed light on these issues.

Ukrainian and Polish drivers are stuck in a blockade that's been dragging on for over 20 days. People endure the cold, sleeping in their trucks. How do you see it now? Because initially, everyone thought it wouldn't last this long.

I've been at the border from both the Polish and Ukrainian sides during my business travels and spoke with Ukrainian drivers. For us Ukrainians, it seems strange because we know Polish exports rose by 25% in the last three quarters, and Ukraine ranks 8th among Poland's export destinations. So, it's causing losses for Polish entrepreneurs.

From the Ukrainian perspective, and we all see this as Ukrainians, the blockade creates numerous problems. We get 25% of our gas from Poland, and Ukraine is among the top five countries dependent on gas. If we don't get it, gas, gasoline, and other fuel prices go up. The Russians are delighted because they're gearing up to attack the Ukrainian energy sector. It looks like actions aiding the Russians in destroying us.

Of course, we're concerned about the drivers living in those trucks; two have already died. And we worry about Ukrainian entrepreneurs going bankrupt as they can't receive goods. Where will these people go? They might become refugees in Poland and other European countries.

But our primary concern is security. Trucks from places like Rzeszów carry weapons and military equipment. These shipments are now monitored by some individuals blocking the roads. This never happened before, and it's clear that Russian services are interested in the information being transported. People from the Ukrainian army call me, saying they're detaining trucks with vital spare parts needed for the production of drones here…

Krzysztof Bosak, a leader of the Confederation, asserts that convoys with humanitarian aid and trucks carrying military equipment are given passage. Have you received information countering this, with the military indicating that such vehicles are prohibited? Clearly, waiting times have lengthened, and the urgency for assistance is immediate, but it won't be available due to the stalled trucks.

No, they aren't permitted. Ukrainian companies producing drones or anti-drone systems for soldiers utilize components from various countries, including Europe, the USA, Great Britain, and Asia. These parts cross the border for the production of modern weaponry in our country. Numerous reports confirm that these trucks face restrictions.

The Ukrainian military is actively working to rectify this situation. I've urged my fellow MPs in Poland to communicate the significance of these items to those causing the blockades. Importantly, the Russians closely monitor everything entering Ukraine. The usual flow of trucks from Lviv to Kyiv, including those transporting weapons or equipment, has significantly decreased. This is a critical matter for our country's security, as well as for Poland and Europe.

If the blockers wish to discuss economic matters, the European Transport Council is scheduled for this month. They should address their concerns there. This falls under the jurisdiction of the European Union, and Poland had no objections during the adoption of transport visa-free policies.

The EU prolonged the suspension of permits for Ukrainian drivers until June 30, raising questions about the timing of the current protest. It occurs at a time when the Polish government is not fully formed, and the Ukrainian delegation lacks counterparts for discussions. Among the protesting carriers' demands are the reinstatement of permits for Ukrainian drivers and an improvement in border services. Kyiv can address the latter, paving the way for a Brussels commission to assess the feasibility of other demands.

Regarding potential bribery concerns, Kyiv is willing to address them. If anyone identifies corruption, the Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine and the Prosecutor's Office of Poland can be contacted; they collaborate on such matters. Disrupting the border is unnecessary. The ongoing situation in Poland, marked by the absence of a new government, contributes to a reluctance to engage with the existing government. Waiting for the formation of the Tusk government could take weeks, leaving people stranded. This situation appears to be an internal political maneuver in Poland, potentially aimed at pressuring the future Tusk government and creating internal political challenges. Notably, part of Tusk's agenda involves enhancing Ukrainian-Polish relations.

I'd like to inquire about your discussions with Polish colleagues, including deputies currently in the government or those expected to join. What insights have they shared regarding potential solutions to this issue?

It's reassuring that Mr. Koval, the Chairman of the Seimas Committee on Foreign Affairs, recently visited Kyiv. During his stay, he met with President Zelenskyy, Yermak, the Head of his Office, and Kubrakov, the Minister of Infrastructure. I am optimistic that these discussions will yield positive outcomes. Mr. Koval is well-versed in the situation at the border and has assured me that he'll exert every effort to address the problem upon his return to Poland.

If this blockade, as carriers and the Confederation suggest, extends into January, how might it impact Ukraine's mood, our relations, and the future? With the holidays approaching, gifts and various goods arrive by trucks and vans. A peaceful protest is quickly evolving into a major international crisis, prompting the intervention of an EU commissioner.

It's undoubtedly bad. People at the border are now hostages to the situation, facing potential job loss, health issues, and even loss of life. This is the most critical aspect. Previously strong Ukrainian-Polish relations, confirmed by sociological studies, are shifting negatively. We rely on Poland's support in our EU membership discussions, and we hoped for continued backing. The current border crisis jeopardizes this support. Time meant for fruitful cooperation now must be spent on addressing these conflict-related issues.

Additionally, we've received information that Russians plan to destroy our power plants. In this challenging winter, Ukrainians may face shortages of gas, gasoline, and electricity. On one hand, there's the threat from the Russians, and on the other, disruptions caused by those blocking our border.

Do you think Ukraine might have prematurely placed its bets on Tusk's government? Could that be why the current Polish government seems offended and remains passive without responding? I've heard this perspective and would like to get your thoughts on it.

No, quite the opposite. Whether fortunate or not, it's a fact that Ukrainian authorities were counting on the victory of 'Law and Justice' (PiS) and relations solely between Duda and Zelenskyy. Now, Zelenskyy needs to reach out to Duda, perhaps proposing a joint meeting of the National Security Council of Poland and Ukraine. However, he hasn't done that, and it's evident that this works in favor of PiS, placing all responsibility on the Tusk government.

I anticipate that the current Polish government and the president of Poland will take every step to ensure the border is unblocked, as it aligns with the interests of both Ukraine and Poland.
 

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