Russian propaganda accused Poland of the desire to partition Ukraine. “It is no secret to anyone that Poland considers a major part of Ukraine (and not just Western Ukraine) to be, in fact, Poland’s own lands originally,” – writes a propaganda website thecolumnist.org. Is it a real treat? We asked experts on both sides.
Polish point of view
“The Ukrainian Review” has asked a Polish political scientist, historian, publicist, and professor at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń Roman Bäcker how he sees such kinds of claims.
“I thoroughly searched the Internet resources for the last year and I did not find any trace of any Poles wanting to change the state borders of Poland, – Roman Bäcker says. – No one in Poland has the slightest intention to be a supporter or even more a collaborator of Russia in this case.
Some traces regarding whether Ukraine has to take into account Poland’s historical achievements appeared before the Russian aggression on 24 February 2022. But they also did not feature any change of territorial borders. They were about issues related to the commemoration of the Polish presence in, for example, Lviv. It is worth adding, the issue of lions was recently resolved at the Lychakiv Cemetery.
This statement of mine applies not only to the strongest political groups which have parliamentary representation in Poland. No Polish political party existing in the Sejm or the Senate raises any territorial claims.
This also applies to the so-called right-wing circles, which very often, inspired by Russian propaganda, acted against the historical tradition that built the Ukrainian nation before Russian aggression. I think mainly about the Bandera question. These voices, however, did not concern with the change of territorial borders, but with a different view of the history of Poland and Ukraine. At the same time, the strongest political groups in Poland clearly said that these differences in the perception of historical policy and in creating national tradition could be resolved through dialogue.
If so, then of course the question is: why does Russian propaganda keep repeating, including Putin’s speech on 21 February 2023, that Poles can make any contribution to partitioning Ukraine?
Putin treats Ukraine as an enemy, he wants to destroy the Ukrainian state, and he wants to destroy the empowered Ukrainian nation, and thus he strives for Ukraine to have no friends, no neighbors with whom it has good relations, and enemies on both sides. This is a classical political calculation.
The political calculation, interestingly, stopped working entirely after 24 February 2022. In Poland, no one is able to admit to positively assessing Putin, and even if there are those who evaluate Putin not negatively (I’m not talking about a positive assessment), such as Janusz Korwin-Mikke, they are entirely not accepted by everyone else. At the moment, Korwin-Mikke had to completely leave the political scene because of his age, let’s say he retired, but at the same time he was deprived of the possibility of publishing in the magazines in which he had been publishing so far. Nobody agreed with his views. Not only the editors decide who can write on the pages of a given magazine, but this also applies to readers who thought in this situation of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine that there was no way to justify or at least add to the positive image of Putin.
Thus, we are dealing with what can be called a complete failure to create a pro-Russian faction of public opinion in Poland. Those who were anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian before 2022 were either eliminated from the political scene or changed their views in the face of such an obvious fact as military aggression against a state that had no intention of provoking Russia.”
Ukrainian point of view
Regarding a threat from Poland, we have also asked the Ukrainian candidate of historical sciences, political scientist, public figure, and publicist Igor Burkut.
“Interwar Poland had considerable problems with the western Ukrainian lands — their population protested against the violation of their national rights, and created underground organizations that fought for the independence of Ukraine, – Igor Burkut says. – In September 1939, by agreement with Berlin, the USSR occupied Eastern Galicia, Volhynia, and Polissya, and included them in the Ukrainian SSR. But in 1941, these lands were occupied by the Nazis, against whom the Ukrainian and Polish underground began to act.
During the Second World War, a bloody conflict took place on these lands between ethnic Poles – supporters of keeping the western Ukrainian lands as part of Poland, and Ukrainians fighting for the Ukrainian state. After the victories of the Red Army over the Wehrmacht, the western Ukrainian lands once again became part of the USSR. According to the agreement between Moscow and the puppet government of the Polish People’s Republic, the vast majority of the Polish population of the western Ukrainian lands was evicted to Poland and the Ukrainian population of Poland to the USSR.
Currently, a small percentage of the Polish population lives in Ukraine, and Ukrainians in Poland. Good neighborly relations based on equality and mutual respect exist between modern Poland and Ukraine. The agency of Moscow in two friendly neighboring states is trying to quarrel between Ukrainians and Poles in order to weaken both states and seize their territory.
The understanding of a common threat from Moscow is present in both Polish and Ukrainian societies. Therefore, Poland provides comprehensive assistance to Ukraine, fully understanding that by fighting against the Russian aggressors, the Ukrainians are saving the Poles from a direct military confrontation with the Russian Federation. Poland is not interested in seizing western Ukrainian lands, but in Ukraine’s acceptance into the EU and NATO, which would greatly simplify relations between the two neighboring countries.
The ideas of forming interstate unions of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and some other countries, based on the equality of all parties, are popular among Polish politicians. Such a union should consider all the shortcomings of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which led to its disintegration. And the main one of them was Warsaw’s desire to dominate other parts of the common state. Taking into account negative historical experiences is a precaution against repeating old mistakes.
Moscow’s propaganda is aimed at reviving chauvinistic sentiments in neighboring nations, directed at Poles against Ukrainians, and Ukrainians against Poles. However, this propaganda will not be particularly successful as long as both peoples are clearly aware that they have a common enemy, and it is possible to overcome it only by united efforts.”
How Poland helps Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian war
According to Business Insider information from December 2022, Ukraine has received from Poland about PLN 40 billion (or about € 8,5 billion) after the full-scale Russian invasion. Private support is estimated at PLN 9-10 billion only in the first three months after the outbreak of war and military aid is at least PLN 8.5 billion.
It is worth adding, many Poles were engaged in support of Ukrainian refugees. “It is estimated that 77% of Poles were involved in helping refugees to a greater or lesser extent. As many as 7% welcomed them in their own homes,” – writes the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita.
Poland also provides military equipment to Ukraine. Only Poland’s offer from January 2023 includes 14 Leopard 2 tanks, S-60 anti aircraft guns with 70,000 rounds of ammunition, and Krab self propelled howitzers. First Leopards from this offer were delivered on 24 February 2023.
“In per capita terms, Poland has actually sent more military aid to Ukraine than virtually any country other than the Baltic states. This aid has included hundreds of tanks and other crucial weaponry. Poland plays a vital role in the logistical efforts to deliver international military aid to Ukraine, enabling a global coalition of countries to supply the Ukrainian army with the weapons, equipment, and ammunition it needs,” – writes Diane Francis for Atlantic Council.
Poland also strongly supports Ukraine in diplomatic activities in the international arena and joins all Ukrainian UN resolutions, condemning Russian aggression.
It is also worth adding, 94% of Poles saw Russia as a major threat in 2022. In 2018 only 65% declared this point of view. In that case we totally agree with Moira Fagan and Laura Clansy: “Poland stands out from the rest of Europe for its overwhelmingly critical opinions of Russia and its leader”.