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22 Feb, 2024 22:21

Maxim Yusin: Here’s why Polish-Ukrainian relations are turning ugly

The rift between the neighbors is now being felt on an emotional level as old tensions begin to reemerge
Maxim Yusin: Here’s why Polish-Ukrainian relations are turning ugly

The European Commission has called on Polish security forces to ensure the transit of Ukrainian goods across the EU border. Local authorities are responsible for maintaining law and order, so Warsaw must protect the rights of passengers and the free movement of products, which are key to the supply chains of the EU’s internal market, Brussels has advised. Meanwhile, farmers and truckers who have been blocking Ukrainian lorries since November are now being joined by hunters unhappy with the new Polish government’s environmental policies. The farmers themselves plan to step up their protests, blocking checkpoints on the border with Ukraine as well as transport hubs and access roads to rail and sea ports.

The crisis in Ukrainian-Polish relations may seem completely illogical and paradoxical. After all, it was Warsaw that, after 24 February 2022, positioned itself as Kiev’s most reliable and resolute ally in Europe, demanding the toughest measures against Moscow even when Paris and Berlin hesitated, President Macron suggested continuing the dialogue with his Russian counterpart, and Chancellor Scholz initially hoped to limit himself to supplying the Ukrainian army with 5,000 helmets.

Today, two years later, the roles are reversed. France and Germany are now seen as unconditional supporters of the Ukrainian authorities, avoiding public criticism even when it’s called for. However, the Poles have stopped restraining themselves and instead give free rein to their emotions. They don’t shy away from acting offended and freely express their complaints to Kiev.

In this regard, the statement by the deputy speaker of the Seimas [parliament], Piotr Zgorzelski – who accused the mayor of Lviv, Andrey Sadovyi, of using “[1940s Nazi collaborator, Stepan] Bandera language” and expressed his conviction that such rhetoric should have no place in Ukraine – was indicative.

Such words have not been uttered for two years in the Western camp (unless we take into account the prime ministers of Hungary and Slovakia with their special position). The worship of Bandera, Roman Shukhevich and other such controversial figures has been ignored. Against the backdrop of Kiev’s struggle with the Kremlin, it was seen as an inconvenient nuance, better left unaddressed so as not to disturb such a comfortable black-and-white picture of the world.

Another Ukrainian official, Deputy Minister of Economy and Trade Taras Kachka, also got into trouble with the deputy speaker of the Seimas. Piotr Zgorzelski asked him to tone down his rhetoric and not to insult Polish farmers protesting at border crossings. It should be noted that Zgorzelski represents the Third Force Alliance, which is part of liberal Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s ruling coalition. Kiev had hoped that after the change of power in Poland, the consignment of nationalists from the Law and Justice party to the opposition and the triumph of pro-EU forces, the friction with Warsaw felt last year would be a thing of the past. But, as we can see, nothing of the sort is happening.

While paying lip service to Kiev, the Tusk government is in fact creating colossal problems for the Ukrainian authorities on the border, or rather doing nothing to solve them.

Meanwhile, Kiev complains that the blockade of border crossings is already causing problems with the delivery of not only humanitarian goods but also military supplies. This comes at a time when the situation on the frontlines is already dramatic for the Ukrainian army.

In Ukrainian social networks, Poles are accused of treason and stabbing them in the back. Any news on Telegram channels about the actions of Polish farmers and truckers is accompanied by hundreds of angry and frankly insulting comments, among which the suggestion to “let Russian troops through so they can deal with the pšeks(polish)” is one of the most innocent.

A Ukrainian refugee who has moved to Warsaw told me that in recent months she has encountered increasingly hostile attitudes. Her car, which has Kiev license plates, has been vandalized three times. 

The rift between Poles and Ukrainians has begun to be felt on an emotional level. The former accuse their neighbors of ingratitude, the latter hit back with claims of selfishness, greed and lack of empathy. At the same time, EU leaders have come under increasing fire.

It was they who, gripped by emotion and without calculating the pros and cons, took the decision to abolish customs duties on Ukrainian goods, mainly agricultural products. They did not think about the consequences, and these turned out to be serious, both for farmers (not only in Poland, protests are taking place all over the bloc) and for truck drivers, whose colleagues from Ukraine, in receipt of much lower wages, are ruining their entire business.

In general, the turbulent events on the Ukraine-Poland border make us think about the price of Kiev’s possible EU membership, which the current leaders in Brussels are striving to achieve, at least in words. But with the European Parliament elections coming up in June, it will be interesting to see to what extent the bloc’s voters approve of these ambitions.

This article was first published by Kommersant, translated and edited by the RT team

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