Is Ukraine’s territorial integrity in Poland’s national interest?


July 21, 2015

Is Ukraine’s territorial integrity in Poland’s national interest?

By Tomasz Jasinski

Translated from Polish by J.Hawk

Russian amphibious exercises in the Kaliningrad Region and the regular Zapad maneuvers presuppose–as one can easily figure out–a direct clash with the Polish military and even the quelling of an armed Polish uprising in Belarus. Poland’s defense capabilities are too limited to repel a Russian attack should those scenarios come to pass. Nevertheless many Poles are still convinced that the country’s fate and the likelihood of clashing with Russia depend on the events on the distant Donbass.

While Russia’s propaganda emphasizes contemporary movements harkening back to the undoubtedly criminal (we Poles know this better than anyone else) OUN-UPA tradition in order to discredit the Maidan, the current government of Ukraine, and its so-called anti-terrorist operation, the Kremlin understands perfectly well that its military intervention would encounter armed resistance stemming from genuine antipathy toward Russia already on the other side of the Dnepr, and certainly in Galicia and Volhynia, despite the disparity of forces. Russia’s struggles after the defeat of the regular Ukrainian army would resemble Israel’s struggle with Hamas, which is a significant burden for the Jewish state in spite of Israeli superiority.

What is Putin’s game?

The creeping Russian aggression–because that’s how one can dispassionately call the flow of equipment and volunteers straight from the Russian military to eastern Ukraine–need not have as its goal the occupation of the entire Ukraine or even separating its south-eastern part. The Donbass and historical Novorossia, or the contemporary southern Ukraine, endowed with far-reaching autonomy while remaining part of Ukraine would no longer be forms of Ukrainians’ political organization. Ukrainians different than the Galician ones, but still Ukrainians. They would instead become the institutions of Ukraine’s RUSSIAN self-government possessing the ability to veto strategic decisions, such as the entry into the EU or NATO. Galicians who value the idea of Ukraine’s territorial integrity will sooner or later have to recognize the country’s south-east as a political entity. Because it is obvious that what Vladimir Putin already managed to achieve on the battlefield he will not give up and that the recognition of the South-East as a party to any negotiation is a demand toward Kiev from which Moscow will never back down. The awakening and promotion of already existing separatist sentiments is either an intended or side-effect of Crimea’s annexation. The slogan “Crimea–Donbass–Russia” was one of the most favorite ones during Donbass demonstrations. The de-facto Russian Crimea may soon become a point of reference for the neighboring regions of Ukraine which will remain under Kiev’s formal sovereignty. Russia’s higher standard of living and the ruining of Ukraine’s economy may make the annexed peninsula a place on which many of the inhabitants of Ukraine’s south-east will cast their gaze and against which they will make constant comparisons in a situation where Ukraine’s economy cannot compare to Russia’s.

The remaining part of the country, which adheres to the notion that Ukraine’s political borders ought to coincide the territories where the Ukrainian ethnicity and language prevails, will most adopt likely an anti-Russian ideology. Given that Ukrainian nationalism is the only ideology capable of mobilizing Ukrainians in an anti-Russian spirit, the Western component of the Ukrainian state may well turn out to be a Banderland of its Western regions which will be more or less loosely federated with “Novorossiya” which in turn will be under nearly direct influence from Moscow.

Thus Ukraine as a whole will be prevented from taking any strategic steps westward. That will fully satisfy the Kremlin for whom the occupation of all of Ukraine is not at all necessary to reach its strategic objectives on the Dnepr.

Should Poland stand on Ukraine’s side

When the pre-Maidan Ukraine with a moderately pro-Russian Yanukovych at the helm is no longer within the realm of the possible, the solution outlined above might be the optimum one for Poland–or the least bad one–of the many possibilities, even though Poland, a state which exists only in theory, has next to no influence on the outcome in Ukraine. This marginalization is Warsaw’s own fault because nobody will invite a country which demonstratively displayed its pro-Ukrainian (and given the nature of the conflict, anti-Russian) stance to the Ukraine-Russia negotiating table. Contrary to Polish politicians’ loud declarations, the Ukraine’s “attorney” is not Warsaw but Berlin. Even Kiev admits it, because its politicians know that Poland’s anti-Russian position is not helping them in their already difficult negotiations with Moscow, and Ukrainians are interested in preserving whatever is left of their country.

At the same time Kiev is the hostage of radical groups responsible for the armed overthrow of Yanukovych, groups whose ideology commits them to the idea of “Great Ukraine.” It’s no accident that the volunteer battalions recruited from among the extremists are the only ones fighting with for Ukrainian Donbass with conviction, fanaticism, and bravery. The same cannot be said for the demoralized, badly trained, and poorly equipped army. Even though every day of fighting made Kiev’s position worse, giving up the field without a fight could have led to a Yanukovych-style overthrow. Because does anyone believe that the police or the army will protect the current authorities against the Right Sector fanatics?

Therefore the mounting casualties among the volunteer battalions strengthen Poroshenko’s and Yanukovych’s hand because they remove unnecessary obstacles from the path to an agreement with Moscow. The sooner that happens, the better it will be for Kiev.

 When Poland attracts the Russian threat

As we know, Russia is capable of conducting policies which are quite costly to Poland, with the food embargo being an example. Challenging Putin would require Poland to possess resources sufficient to support such a policy. The Polish state which exists only in theory does not have such resources. Does it therefore have a protector prepared to clash with Russia in the name of Poland’s interests? Warsaw cannot build an anti-Russian coalition because neither the Czech Republic, nor Hungary or Slovakia want it (Hungary and Slovakia which represses its Hungarian minority don’t want to be coalition partners), and the Baltic states would add nothing to such a coalition. The idea of an alliance with Lithuania is dubious because its desire to pursue the ideal end goal of Lithuania as a country of Lithuanians is a threat to the Polish national minority in that country.

In fact contemporary Russia has not done to Poland anything that countries which Poland views as its allies have not done.

On April 7, 2010 in Katyn Putin mentioned the Polish Home Army’s contribution to the victory over Nazi Germany, and one of the chambers of the Russian parliament adopted a unanimous resolution acknowledging the NKVD’s responsibility for the Katyn Massacre. The West is courting us in a similar fashion, knowing that the inferiority complex-afflicted Polish nation responds positively to references of its many years of struggle for freedom. On the other hand, Russia still has not returned the Tu-154M wreckage, but at the same time London still has not declassified key documents concerning the death of General Sikorski at Gibraltar. Therefore there’s no reason to mistrust Russia more than other countries, and there’s also no reason to believe in the guarantees by other countries. Because neither the US nor the UK will guarantee our security. If there is a conflict between West and Russia, with an unambiguously confrontational Polish policy toward Russia, these countries will assuredly put Poland in harm’s way as the first country to be drawn into the conflict.

If the West needs Poland, it’s only as a battlefield for a possible conflict with Russia. The Kremlin already explained the effects of such a conflict through Vladimir Zhirinovskiy’s lips–Poland would be ground to dust. Feel free to believe that Zhirinovskiy uttered these words without Putin’s knowledge or that Zhirinovskiy has made a political career outside of Kremlin’s control. Zhirinovskiy’s words should not be taken as a threat but as a warning.

In actuality Poland has no reason to trust the US sincerity. The many conflicts and rebellions they provoked have led to disastrous outcomes, such as the ongoing holocaust of Christians in Iraq by the Islamic State which is armed by the West to operate as opposition to Assad in Syria. Therefore there is no “clash of civilizations” in Ukraine (West against Russia), only a game of interests and influence where Poland is useful only as a frontline state with all the associated costs. Because if Russia wanted to, and  if it were profitable, it could occupy Poland right now.

Poland clashing with Russia over Ukraine, without any resources for such a confrontation and without allies willing to risk their own relationship with Russia for the sake of Poland is a path toward national suicide. Or perhaps that’s the idea–clash with Russia and be wiped off the map of Europe in order to demonstrate that Polish politicians were right about Putin.

But the problem is that the world, or at least the part which interests us, knows the Russian president’s methods very well because, first of all, it is just as ruthless in pursuing its interests and, secondly, because it’s negotiating the future of Ukraine with him and is perfectly aware with whom it is dealing. The heroic and senseless Polish suicide will not influence anything.

Should Ukraine’s territorial integrity be a dogma for us

Paradoxically, Russia may do Poland a favor even though it obviously won’t do it for the sake of Warsaw. Ukrainian nationalism is the only ideology which currently mobilizes Ukrainians against Russia. And it is the anti-Russian dimension of the Maidan which caused the Polish pilgrimages to Kiev to spin tales of Polish-Ukrainian friendship.

The fact we will have Banderland of some kind as a neighbor is suggested by many factors, including the promotion of Vladimir Vyatrovich, a OUN-UPA glorifier, to head the Ukrainian National Memory Institute. The nationalist ideology, thus far popular only in the areas bordering Poland, was successfully transplanted in Kiev. We therefore know what the ideological foundation of the new Ukraine will be and it is in Poland’s interests that it should not be very strong. Perhaps it should actually be quite weak. The more embroiled it is in conflict with Russia, the better it is for Poland. Such a Ukraine would be dependent on Poland, which was one of the assumptions of the alliance with Ukraine conceived by Pilsudski.

Weak and economically impoverished nationalist Ukraine would also lose its attraction to Germany, whose client Banderland might have become which would have been extremely dangerous to Poland. Warsaw is already a satellite of Berlin which practically rules the EU. Therefore Polish interests require a Ukraine incapable of joining the EU because of its autonomous Novorossia ballast. A Ukraine with a sufficiently weakened nationalist component to prevent Berlin from using it as a tool of its own politics. The precondition for that is political autonomy for southern and eastern Ukraine which would prevent the profits from maritime trade from going to Kiev and preserve a deep state of antagonism between the Kiev Ukraine and Novorossia within the boundaries of the Ukrainian state. That’s not the only way by which the loosening Kiev’s grip on some of some of the country’s regions would be beneficial to Poland. One can even go a step further and examine whether a hypothetical occupation of Transcarpathia by Hungary would also be good for Poland. A similar solution might be applied to Bukovina which has been part of Romania since 1940. A Ukraine in conflict with Romania and Hungary would be even weaker and even more dependent on Poland, which would also benefit from having a border with Hungary–Poland would no longer be dependent on the pro-Russian Czech Republic and Slovakia, and have access, through the traditionally friendly Hungary, to Croatia and Romania. Naturally, Ukrainians might not like this scenario, but nobody said the interests of Poland and Ukraine coincide.

All of this”immoral” discussion may remind many of how Poland was thought of in 1772-1795 or in 1939…”Since we were divided up so many times, how can we support the partition of another country?” someone might ask. We can–if it is beneficial to our country which is still Poland, and incidentally nobody is proposing that Poland participate in the partition of Ukraine. Moreover, it is Ukraine who was one of the beneficiaries of Soviet aggression against Poland in 1939, and nobody in today’s Ukraine has any problem with it.

Therefore if we are to make comparisons to 1939, it’s in the sense that we should recognize in a timely manner that we are once again being pushed into a conflict. We might not be able to afford to make that mistake again.

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