Despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic “covers” Poland and Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda decided to come to our country. During his visit, both Kiev and Warsaw were interested in three main issues – security, economics, and history. The future of Ukrainian-Polish relations largely depends on the answer to them… As well as on whether the Ukrainian and Polish sides will be able to restore confidence, which has been badly damaged by the failure to fulfill their obligations.
Best of all, Kiev and Warsaw are doing with security cooperation.
Poland is one of Ukraine’s most loyal partners in countering Russian aggression, defending the preservation of sanctions against the Russian Federation until the occupation of Crimea and part of Donbass ends. Warsaw is also uncompromisingly opposed to the construction of Nord Stream 2 and is a partner of Kiev in the Lublin Triangle and a promoter of our country in the EU and NATO. It is noteworthy that the presidents devoted about half of the time allotted for negotiations to Russia, Donbass, Crimea, Belarus, Nagorno-Karabakh, the problem of energy security.
But Ukrainian-Polish relations are not rosy. And the words of Volodymyr Zelensky that Ukraine and Poland have already overcome most of the problems in bilateral relations are an exaggeration. There are problems with quotas for the transportation of Ukrainian carriers through Poland, the creation of new checkpoints on the Ukrainian-Polish border, the development of a Polish loan of 100 million euros for the reconstruction of border road infrastructure.
True, Zelenskiy expects that the problem with the insufficient number of permits for Ukrainian road carriers to travel through Poland will be resolved in the near future. He also assures that Kiev is working closely with Warsaw on the issue of increasing the number of automobile checkpoints on the Ukrainian-Polish border and their capacity. However, such expectations and assurances have been voiced more than once after the high-level Ukrainian-Polish talks.
Although the Poles do not publicly focus on the law on education, they are concerned about it. And the concern of the Ukrainians, in turn, is the future appointment of the Ukrainianophobe Przemyslav Charnek as the Minister of Education of Poland. As a Lublin governor, in 2018 he turned to the prosecutor’s office regarding the head of the Ukrainian Society of Poland, Grzegorz Kupriyanovych, and she began an investigation against the latter for “insulting the Polish nation”. As Minister of Education, Czarnek can be expected to create problems with teaching Ukrainian language in Poland.
Perhaps, an intergovernmental agreement on the functioning of Polish schools in Ukraine and Ukrainian schools in Poland, which the parties plan to sign, will partially remove the concerns of Kiev and Warsaw. In any case, such an intention is declared in a joint statement by Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Andrzej Duda following the meeting in Kiev.
Ukrainians are also concerned about the unexamined cases of abuse of places of memory in Poland. The Poles, for their part, talk about acts of vandalism against monuments in Ukraine.
Let us recall that one of the key problems in Ukrainian-Polish relations is the interpretation of a common history and action.I Kiev and Warsaw in the field of the policy of national memory. In the past year, the impact of history on bilateral relations has been minimal. Not least because Zelenskiy’s office does not pay as much attention to the politics of historical memory as the Poroshenko administration. But if the problem is not voiced with emotional intensity in the public plane, this does not mean that it does not exist.
Several years ago, in response to the destruction of monuments to the UPA soldiers in Poland (including legally-established ones), the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance introduced a temporary ban on search and exhumation work on the territory of Ukraine. The decision of the Ukrainian authorities then provoked a painful reaction from Polish society. After Zelensky’s victory in the presidential elections in Warsaw, they hoped that the new Ukrainian government would move away from “nationalist” rhetoric and change its position on a moratorium on search and exhumation work. These hopes were partially justified.
Kiev at the beginning of the year decided to give two permits for the Poles to conduct prospecting work. In response, Ukraine expected that the Polish side would restore the legal monument to the UPA soldiers destroyed by vandals on the Monastery Mountain near Verhrata. The Poles did not. As a result, the Ukrainians have extended the moratorium. Only on the eve of Duda’s arrival in Ukraine, the Polish side, trying to create a favorable background for negotiations, restored the monument on Mount Monastery.
Warsaw hoped that the Ukrainian side would lift the moratorium on search and exhumation during the visit. But that did not happen. After all, the text on the memorial plaque of the monument at the Monastery does not correspond to the original form: there is no list of the names of the buried UPA soldiers and there is no inscription about “Fallen for the freedom of Ukraine”. And this is essential for Kiev. As one of our Ukrainian interlocutors noted, “restoration of the plaque is only one step. Now it is necessary to make the following one and restore the complete list of the names of the killed Ukrainians. ”
Although the lack of progress on the issue of search and exhumation work aroused the dissatisfaction of the Polish side, this did not affect the atmosphere of Duda’s stay in Ukraine. Ukrainian and Polish interlocutors of ZN.UA noted: the visit took place in a good atmosphere. This was also facilitated by the fact that the Polish and Ukrainian sides deliberately did not make issues related to the policy of national memory a priority in the negotiations.
“Questions of historical memory are a long process. And they cannot be solved in one visit. But we would not want the problems that have arisen around the policy of historical memory of the two countries to be at the heart of the Ukrainian-Polish dialogue, ”one of the Ukrainian diplomats said in a conversation with ZN.UA on the eve of the visit. In relation to Poland, Kiev would like to stake on the economy, using the economic potential of the border regions and participating in joint infrastructure projects, including energy projects. But will this approach suit the ruling coalition in Poland?
Taking into account the prospects for trade and economic relations between the two countries, Kiev is showing interest in participating in the Trimorya project, the key areas of cooperation of which are transport, energy, and the digital economy. It is unlikely that Ukraine will become a participant in this initiative. More likely to get observer status. And in this Kiev hopes for the help of Warsaw. In any case, the joint statement says that Poland will support Ukraine’s “deepening cooperation” with Trimorya.
We will also pay attention to the signing of a document on cooperation between the seaports of Odessa and Gdansk in order to increase the competitiveness of both ports, as well as strengthen their economic ties. It is also noteworthy that during Andrzej Duda’s stay in the Ukrainian capital, the State Property Fund, and the Polish PGNiG entered into a confidentiality agreement as part of the company’s future participation in the privatization of Ukrainian energy facilities. (The Polish side is interested in the privatization of thermal power plants and oblenergos.)
In a joint statement, Zelensky and Duda stated that what it is necessary to continue the work of the advisory committee of the presidents of Ukraine and Poland, whose meeting is to be held in Warsaw. But Kiev also believes that a serious impetus to economic cooperation between the two countries can be given by the arrival of the Polish prime minister to Ukraine, who has not visited our country for five years.
If earlier the absence of the visit of the head of the Polish government to our country was explained by the crisis in bilateral relations due to the policy of national memory, today, as our interlocutors explain, the reason is different – the Prime Minister of Poland does not see a reliable partner in Ukraine. This attitude towards our country is characteristic not only of Mateusz Morawiecki but also of all governments formed in recent years with the participation of the Law and Justice Party.
It is important for the future of Ukrainian-Polish political and economic relations that after Andrzej Duda’s visit to Ukraine, Warsaw changes its attitude towards our country. And Kiev should not give rise to doubts about the implementation of the agreements reached. Otherwise, relations between Ukraine and Poland are doomed to failure.