Nationalist anger

Image: Lukas Hartmann


Poland and Ukraine have plunged into a political crisis of major proportions with no end in sight.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's revelation to local media last Wednesday that his country had stopped supplying weapons to Ukraine to arm itself, showed how much bilateral ties have plummeted in the last week. Warsaw unilaterally expanded restrictions to agricultural imports from its eastern neighbor following the expiration of the European Commission agreement on September 15 in order to protect its farmers, which prompted Kiev to complain to the WTO last Monday.

Later the same day, Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller suggested that Warsaw could let its aid to Ukrainian refugees expire next spring rather than extend it, thus suggesting a willingness to expand their trade dispute into other dimensions. If this happens, the more than one and a half million Ukrainians temporarily residing in Poland will have to return home or go to another place, like Germany, for example. On Tuesday, everything turned into a major political crisis.

Polish Minister for European Affairs Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek warned in a threatening manner: “Ukraine’s actions do not impress us… but they make a certain impression on Polish public opinion. This can be seen in the polls, in the level of public support for continued support for Ukraine. And this harms Ukraine itself. We would like to continue supporting Ukraine, but for this to be possible, we need to have the support of the Poles on this issue. If we don’t have it, it will be difficult for us to continue supporting Ukraine in the same way we have done so far.”

Volodymyr Zelensky then explored his global pulpit at the United Nations General Assembly to propagate the following: “We are working to ensure food stability. And I hope many of you will join us in this effort. We launched a temporary maritime export corridor from our ports. And we are working hard to preserve land routes for grain export. And it's alarming to see how some people in Europe, some of our friends in Europe, are throwing away solidarity in the midst of political theater – making a big deal out of grain. They may appear to play their own role, but in reality they are helping to set the stage for a Moscow actor.”

A answer from Polish President Andrzej Duda, which he shared with reporters, showed how offended he was: “Ukraine is behaving like a drowning person and clinging to whatever it can… but we have the right to defend ourselves from harm being done to us. A drowning person is extremely dangerous, they can pull you into the depths… and simply drown the rescuer. We must act to protect ourselves from the harm being done to us, because if the person who is drowning… drowns us, they will not receive help. Therefore, we have to look after our interests and we will do so effectively and decisively.”

It was in this context that Poland urgently called the Ukrainian ambassador on Wednesday, and later that day, Morawiecki would reveal that Poland will no longer send weapons to Kiev. Before Ukraine's complaint to the WTO about Poland, which was what started this rapid sequence of events, tensions had been simmering for some time as the failed counteroffensive removed them from the mutual illusion of a seemingly inevitable victory over Ukraine. Russia.

These neighboring nations then naturally they started to disagree, as the entire range of their pre-existing differences was exacerbated and quickly reshaped bilateral relations. The trade dispute was just the tip of the iceberg, but it showed that each side was beginning to prioritize its contradictory national interests over shared political interests. This signaled to their societies that it was now again acceptable to attack each other with nationalist anger rather than focusing solely on Russia.

However, all this could have been avoided if Ukraine had shown some gratitude to Poland for everything Warsaw had done for it over the last 19 months and not complained to the WTO about the grain issue. Even worse was that Zelensky broke the taboo of accusing his Polish colleague, who leads one of the most Russophobic states in history, of allegedly fulfilling Russia's geopolitical orders. He has crossed a red line and now there is no going back to the illusory mutual trust that was there before.

Ties between Poland and Ukraine are expected to fall further in the coming weeks as the former approaches the next elections on October 15, which the ruling “Law and Justice” (PiS) party hopes to win, making everything revolve around national security. This explains why they cut off arms shipments to Ukraine in response to Valodymyr Zelensky's ridiculous insinuation about Poland being a Russian puppet, and it is possible that more significant measures like these will be taken soon to remind Ukraine that it is in debt to Poland for its survival.

With these calculations in mind, it is possible to safely predict that ties between Poland and Ukraine will likely continue to decline until mid-October at the earliest. After that, they will be able to recover if the latest media campaign of the opposition “Plataforma Cívica” (PO) achieves win over a sufficient number of rural voters against PiS. It will be an uphill battle for them, and PiS could form a coalition government with the party anti-establishment Confederation if they are not completely defeated, therefore, the PO's return to power is not guaranteed.

As such, there is a credible chance that ties between Poland and Ukraine will fall further next year, especially if PiS is forced to form a coalition government with the Confederation. Poland has come to resent Volodymyr Zelensky in recent months, while Ukraine has been consistently against Poland's leading role in NATO's proxy war against Russia through Ukraine, which could lead to a devastating combination for Kiev. In a situation like this, everything can get much worse, and at an even faster pace.

In the absence of a PO victory at the polls next month, the only other variable that could realistically offset this scenario would be Kiev backtracking on its threat of WTO litigation and Volodymyr Zelensky finally showing sincere gratitude in public for everything Poland has done for Ukraine. However, no one should get their hopes up about this, as he is expected to seek re-election next spring and may worry that backtracking on his new assertive policy towards Poland could cause him to lose the nationalist vote. .

Both parties are, therefore, in a dilemma in which each of them believes that it has more to gain in terms of national and political interests by increasing tensions than by being the first to reduce them. Thus, a self-sustaining cycle is in the process of being formed, which risks leading to such a drastic deterioration of their ties that the current bleak situation may soon be viewed positively. This is especially true if Poland begins to exercise its growing hegemony over Western Ukraine more openly in the near future.

To be clear, the sequence of events mentioned above is a worst-case scenario and therefore not all that likely, but it also cannot be ruled out, as few predicted how far ties between Poland and Ukraine would fall just a few months ago. . It is undeniable that Polish-Ukrainian relations have entered a period of uncertainty that may last for some time, so both would do well to prepare their societies for the possibility of continued tensions so that they can adapt more effectively to this emerging geostrategic reality.

*Andrew Korybko holds a master's degree in International Relations from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Book author Hybrid Wars: From Color Revolutions to Coups (popular expression). []

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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