Poland Must Recognise It's Waging War against Ukraine's European Future

Friday, 5 January 2024 — , European Pravda Editorial board
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During his time as European Council president, Donald Tusk would fly with the Ukrainian troops to eastern Ukraine and promote Ukraine’s accession to the EU. But now, his lack of action as Poland’s prime minister is undermining Ukraine’s future

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Almost a year ago, Ukraine's relations with Poland, which had just been improving, went downhill.

The so-called grain ban, imposed last April, came out of the blue for Ukraine and led to similar action in other Eastern European countries.

Then followed a barrage of diplomatic crises with mutual accusations, summonings of ambassadors, etc. While both countries blamed each other, the undisputable consequence was that Kyiv and Warsaw—or, more precise, the-then ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party—had lost mutual trust

What happened on 6 November, that is two months ago, painted the picture in black and white completely. A group of Polish drivers, with the tacit consent of the Polish government, started blocking Ukrainian trucks from crossing the border.

In international relations, there is a name for this.

Poland is waging a trade war against Ukraine.

The then Polish government was well aware of this and avoided substantive discussions, responding with cynical accusations of Ukraine being ‘ungrateful’.

It did not matter that the blockade was initiated by seemingly ‘independent’ activists of the Polish far-right Confederation party, best known in Ukraine for its anti-Ukrainian rhetoric, ties with Russia, and PiS's readiness to form a coalition with it. 

What mattered was that the then Polish government did not take a single step to resolve the crisis at the border with Ukraine.

However, it was only a month before the change of government in Poland after PiS failed to secure a majority at the parliamentary elections. That is why the interim government in Warsaw, led by Mateusz Morawiecki, was reluctant to step up, seeking to complicate the situation for its successors.

Ukraine realised it had to wait it out until Morawiecki—not so long ago deemed a partner, a friend even—resigned and Donald Tusk, the leader of the liberal Civic Platform (PO), was sworn in.

Indeed, even sceptics had pinned their hopes on Tusk—a European, a liberal, a former leader of the European People’s Party and ex-president of the European council, who in 2019 visited Kyiv and delivered a speech in Ukrainian on Ukraine’s path to the EU.

Ukraine, however, kept its expectations as realistic as possible.

No one in Kyiv expected that the grain ban in Poland would be lifted soon. However, it seemed back then, the horrifying blockade at the border had to stop immediately. And when the Tusk government was sworn in on 11 December, it emphasised its commitment to supporting Ukraine. The new Polish PM spoke of his intention to visit Kyiv, adding to the hopes.

It has been four weeks since then, and it is clear now—even the cautious expectations have not been met.

Poland’s full-scale trade war against Ukraine is not only ongoing; the situation has worsened.

For instance, Czeslaw Siekierski, Poland’s new agriculture minister, said the other day that the ban on Ukrainian agricultural imports would be in place indefinitely.

It is clear for Kyiv that this is part of Polish domestic policy; that Tusk is trying to gain the support of farmers before the local elections this April. But the situation won’t change then. There will be elections to the European Parliament in June, and then, Poland will head for the 2025 presidential election. Should we wait until all elections are over?

The situation at the Ukrainian-Polish border is catastrophic as well.

The Tusk government refused to ban the blocking of roads to the border with Ukraine—at least while the Russian full-scale invasion is ongoing—and chose instead to negotiate with the Polish carriers and facilitate their dialogue with Ukraine.

In theory, such negotiations could be successful, even though what the carriers demanded at first was unacceptable to Kyiv.

The problem, however, is that such an approach has made the Ukrainian border a sitting duck for everyone, including the Kremlin’s overt agents—of which there are aplenty in Confederation—and ‘useful idiots’ who are destroying Ukraine’s relations with Poland without even realising who they are aiding. Now, not only the Confederate supporters but also Polish farmers are now blocking the Ukrainian border, making demands that have nothing to do with Ukraine. And Tusk seems ready to give in.

The border crisis has become a ready-to-use tool for pressuring the Tusk government. Therefore, if someone else in Poland takes it up after the farmers, it would not come as surprising.

But for us, the bottom line is the same.

The border with Poland is being blocked; trade with Ukraine is becoming toxic for European businesses; Ukrainian exporters, which, against all odds, continue to work and pay to the budget so that Ukraine can continue fighting the Russian aggressor, are missing deadlines and losing contracts; Ukraine’s economy loses billions of dollars.

The blockade is also creating direct additional problems for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Although the Polish carriers promised not to prevent military and humanitarian supplies from entering Ukraine, there is ample evidence of the contrary. Volunteers are speaking of difficulties in bringing in UAVs and other aid for the frontline; the Polish protesters once even blocked a patrol boat under a US aid programme. Fuel supplies in Ukraine are another problem at hand.

Several Ukrainian drivers have died waiting in lines at the blocked border.

It's hard to believe that Hungary, which is much less amicable to Ukraine, has shown more responsibility in this regard, not allowing the carriers protesting at the border to block the roads.

In Slovakia, however, where Russia’s influence is the strongest in Eastern Europe, local carriers have blocked the border with Ukraine several times. Their argument goes like this: If Poland, a Ukraine’s friend, can do this, what's the problem?

What aggravates the situation is that Donald Tusk is refusing to take political responsibility and end the trade war with Ukraine, which—while it began under the previous government—is now his responsibility.

But even more important is another consequence of Poland’s trade war against Ukraine, which Warsaw is yet to realise.

Week after week, Poland is killing Ukraine’s European future.

For many Ukrainians, the continuing border crisis, not changed even under the new Polish government, has meant that Warsaw, despite its official rhetoric, will not let Ukraine join the EU.

Our accession to the European Union—however it will happen—means the mutual opening of all markets, including the agricultural one.

Instead, what Poland is showing is that it is ready to do anything—including violating the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, its obligations to Ukraine and Brussels, the fundamental EU norms, even starting and exacerbating a trade war—to prevent Ukraine’s economic integration with the EU; to prevent Ukraine from becoming part of European economy; and thus, to prevent Ukraine’s accession to the EU.

It’s not the matter of what government there is in Poland—be it the conservative PiS, current liberal, or far-right Confederation.

That Polish media and opinion leaders fail to condemn the border crisis only adds to such an impression in Ukraine and raises many questions in Ukrainian society.

Ukrainian pilots are already joking that the next week after the Lviv airport resumes operation, Polish pilots will be protesting because the Polish air carrier LOT does not want to lose the extra profits from Ukrainian passenger traffic through Polish airports.

This is an illustration of how the predictably toxic trade war against Ukraine is affecting the attitudes of Ukrainians towards Poland and Poles—week after week destroying what was achieved in 2022, when Poland did a lot for Ukraine.

But now Poland itself is questioning whether this was done unselfishly.

That is why the current crisis at the Ukrainian-Polish border has become a major challenge for our bilateral relations.

There are already calls in Ukraine to boycott Polish goods.

Therefore, if—at the very least—the border crisis is not resolved soon, the immediate consequences could be catastrophic—both for interstate relations, for trust between societies, and for preserving Ukraine's European integration.

This is not an exaggeration.

There is no easier way to kill Ukrainians’ confidence in joining the EU than showing that even the ‘friendly’ Warsaw proves by its deeds that it will prevent Ukraine from becoming part of the European economy and, more broadly, the European family of nations.

This disillusionment and destruction of friendly relations is a problem for both Ukraine and Poland.

Russia’s full-scale aggression has given a chance to a historic understanding between Ukraine and Poland. The military support provided by Warsaw has led to record-high sympathy in Ukraine for its western neighbour.

Destroying this would be at least unwise.

Unblocking the border with Ukraine is clearly in Poland’s interest. The EU commission has been encouraging Warsaw to do so, and most Polish businesses are interested in continuing their trade with Ukraine.

"There is no free Poland without a free Ukraine," Józef Piłsudski, a prominent Polish statesman of the 20th century, is believed to have said. His words have long been the motto of many politicians who now serve in the Polish government.

Five years ago, Donald Tusk, speaking in the Ukrainian parliament, received a standing ovation when he said, "There is no Europe without Ukraine."

It is time for him to prove that those words were sincere. What Poland only lacks is the political will to do so.

by European Pravda newsroom

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