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3 Feb, 2024 15:50

Crimea is historically Russian – Polish president

Andrzej Duda has expressed doubts Kiev will be able to seize the peninsula
Crimea is historically Russian – Polish president

The Crimean Peninsula was historically part of Russia “for most of the time,” Polish President Andrzej Duda has said, expressing doubts Ukraine will be able to capture it.

The president made the remarks on Friday during an interview with YouTube channel Kanal Zero. Asked whether he believed Ukraine could seize Crimea from Russia – a goal repeatedly proclaimed by Kiev – Duda said it was hard for him to answer such a question, particularly given the “special” history of the peninsula.

“I don’t know if [Ukraine] will regain Crimea, but I believe it will regain Donetsk and Lugansk,” he stated, referring to the two republics that broke off Ukraine in 2014 and joined Russia after referendums in late 2022. Crimea, however, “is a special place,” including for “historical reasons,” the Polish president argued.

“In fact, if we look historically, it was in Russia’s hands for most of the time,” he stated.

The controversial remarks received a poor reception in Poland and Ukraine alike. Kiev’s envoy to the country, Vassily Zvarych, took to X (formerly Twitter) to reiterate Ukraine’s goals to recapture all the territories it has claims on.

“Crimea is Ukraine: it is and will remain so,” he wrote. “The deoccupation of Crimea is our shared task and an obligation to the free world.”

Domestic political opponents of Duda, an ally of the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS), which lost elections last year to the pro-EU Civic Coalition (KO) political alliance, did not miss the opportunity to take jabs at the president. For instance, Polish PM Roman Giertych, a longtime PiS dissident and current member of KO, warned the historical approach to territories could be dangerous for Poland’s territorial integrity.

“What an incredibly stupid statement!” Giertych wrote. “I would like to remind Mr. Duda that there are cities in our country that in their history belonged to Poland for a shorter time than to another country,” he added. His comments were presumably referring to formerly German territories incorporated into Poland after the country was recreated in the aftermath of World War II.

The criticism prompted Duda to explain his remarks, with the president insisting his position on Ukraine’s territorial claims remains unchanged and has been “clear from the day one.”

“Russia’s attack on Ukraine and occupation of the internationally recognized Ukrainian territories, including Crimea, is a crime,” he said in an X post on Saturday.

Crimea broke away from Ukraine in the aftermath of the 2014 Maidan coup, which ousted democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovich, ultimately triggering the conflict in then-Ukrainian Donbass. Crimea joined Russia following a peninsula-wide referendum, during which the local population overwhelmingly backed the idea of reunification. Moscow has repeatedly stated that its sovereignty over the peninsula was not a matter of negotiations.