Poland’s Eastern Politics: Ukraine

e899e995-25bf-4538-ba19-aec026ff673bThe post-World War I events, when some of the smaller Eastern European states had military conflicts, helped to formulate the stereotypical view that the regional countries do not want to peacefully cooperate on the main political issues and resolve them mainly in a confrontational manner. However, Poland, as one of the central actors in Central and Eastern Europe, maintains foreign political relations based on rational calculations and less inclined on emotional attitudes and sentiments.

Relations between Poland and Ukraine are a clear example of rational foreign policy. For Poland, Ukraine is one of the main axes of the containment policy against Russia, and because of that close social, political and economic relations are established between them. As early as 2008, Poland and Sweden initiated the EU Eastern Partnership program, the main beneficiaries of which are Ukraine and Georgia. The initiative aimed to implement economical and political projects to the rapprochement of the beneficiary countries with the EU and its laws and regulations. Poland is one of the main lobbyists and supporters of countries in Eastern Europe such as Ukraine and Georgia. They have a significant role in its Eastern foreign policy. Although the relationship between Poland and Ukraine involves quite complicated historical disputes and events, contemporary foreign policy of Poland is focused on warming up relations with Ukraine.

History has its importance in international relations, especially events that have not yet been officially defined and may have different approaches in different countries. When discussing Polish-Ukrainian relations, it is impossible to avoid mentioning the post-World War I military confrontation. The roads of these two states were first crossed in 1919 when both states regained their independence. Tensions between the two nations continued during and after World War II, which had a negative impact on even modern politics and relations.

The military and political developments of 1942-1950 are differently approached in Poland and Ukraine. If the latter is underlining heroic fight for its independence, it is a painful episode for Poland. Due to this issue, the political relations between the two countries have been tense several times.

Poland’s eastern politics, on the one hand, is designed to contain the Russian threat, and on the other hand, it is focused to gain a leading role of the stabilizer and economic powerhouse in Eastern Europe. As early as 1990, even before the Soviet Union officially dissolved, Poland had begun negotiations with the Ukrainian authorities, resulting in a mutual agreement on the absence of territorial claims and disputes. In the following years, Poland not only seeks to deepen economic ties with Ukraine but also helps to democratize and bring it closer to the EU.

After the Orange Revolution in Ukraine when pro-Western forces came to power (2004-2005), Poland was one of the first to express support for Viktor Yushchenko’s foreign policy, which promoted Ukraine’s not just a national but also European identity and tried to reduce Russia’s influence over the country. After Russia annexed Crimea and engaged in hostilities in the Donbas region, Poland has taken an anti-Kremlin stance, denouncing its actions and calling for sanctions against Russia. Moreover, since 2015 Polish authorities have officially stated that they will never recognize the annexation of Crimea.

In 2014-2017, Poland, together with the US, was not only an active initiator for the military aid to Ukraine but also an active implementer. For Poland, Ukraine is one of the important bulwarks of deterrence against Russia’s aggression. It is well known that Soviet offensive launched against Poland (1920) only after the Red Army captured UkraineAlthough the war ended with Polish victory, the geopolitical significance of Ukraine became particularly clear. Consequently, for Poland, the fall of Ukraine is associated with an increase of apparent military threat with Russia. That is why, since 2014, Poland has not only been a lobbyist and implementer of arms supplies to Ukraine but also led to creating a mixed, 4,500-strong brigade tasked with repelling any foreign attack. The brigade is contained by Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian troops. Its nickname is “LITPOLUKRBRIG”. The important thing is that in this case, we see two NATO states helping the non-NATO country with not only financially and technologically, but also physically to improve its defence capabilities.

Poland’s economic involvement in Ukraine is significant. In 2009, Poland and Ukraine decided to reduce local border tariffs, facilitating traffic and streamlining economic activity. It is noteworthy that in the last decade, Poland has had neither economic stagnation nor recession, which increases its economic attractiveness. since 2014, Labour migration from Ukraine to Poland has been increasing steadily, and according to some sources, the number of transnational labour migrants in Poland exceeds even one million people. In 2017 alone, $ 3.1 billion was transferred from Poland to Ukraine. Remittances from Poland are one of the major arteries of the Ukrainian economy. Poland, through its simplified labour legislation, allows Eastern European states to easily engage in the country’s economic activities, making itself as a highly desirable country among EU member states.

The attitude of Polish citizens towards Ukraine has high importance. Kantar public opinion polls show that 87% of Poles perceive Ukraine as a European state, while in Germany 55% (Kantar Public, 2017). This further strengthens cooperation between the two countries.

Despite lingering historical disagreements, Polish-Ukrainian relations are developing positively. The mutual understanding between the countries and realities in their foreign policies, as well as the deepening of cultural and economic relations, bring the two states closer together. Poland’s support for Ukraine is likely to further increases in the coming years, serving to deter Russia’s threat, and on the other hand, emphasizing Poland’s role as a regional leader. Despite the historical difficulties, political, social and economic realities between the two states are a clear example of how two countries build a relationship on rational and dynamic rather than confrontational processes.

Giorgi Koberidze
Senior Fellow

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